While low back pain is the first thing that comes to mind that chiropractors can help with, neck pain is a close second for the next most common injury seen in the office. Whether it is related to “sleeping funny”, working from home, or pushing yourself too hard in the gym, neck pain can be quite the nagging injury to deal with.
3 of the most common neck injuries are muscle strains, disc injuries, and joint dysfunction. Chances are you or someone you know will deal with one of these at some point in your life. A little bit of background knowledge can go a long way.
Muscle strains entail a tear or overstretching of a muscle or tendon. Usually, we see this after making a specific muscle group do too much too fast, or too much for too long. One type of neck strain in the neck that most people have experienced is acute torticollis aka a “stiff neck”.
Many times, ligament sprain is seen in conjunction with muscle strains. This again is a stretch or tear type of injury, but to the passive ligamentous stabilizing structures aka the fibrous tissue that connects bones and joints.
Depending on how much “tearing” occurs can affect the timeline of healing. Strains and sprains typically heal on their own, but some of the soft tissue work mobilization techniques, and exercises utilized by chiropractors can speed up the timeline.
Disc injury is the broad umbrella for various degrees of damage to the shock absorbing disc of cartilage and protein between each vertebra.
While the main job of the disc is to absorb the impact of various movements and activities like running, bending, lifting, etc. They also absorb forces from sustained positions like sitting at a desk, or standing for long periods of time. When the inner or outer material of the disc becomes sensitized, (which can happen due to trauma, how we move, positions we sustain each day, or various other factors including both quality and quantity of sleep), it can cause neck pain and even radiating pain into the shoulder and down the arm.
Usually, the treatment for disc issues involves specific exercises and loading the spine into its end range, as well as performing home exercises and temporarily avoiding certain positions.
Although painful, surgery is often unnecessary for disc pain. While there may be certain severe cases where it’s needed, conservative care is helpful a majority of the time. It is important to note that there is also evidence that when parts of the disc are surgically removed, it ends up causing accelerated age-related changes to the area down the line.
These are injuries that can heal with time, but this is a case that is best examined by a professional to rule out red flags like muscle weakness, to develop a plan to decrease pain and to avoid worsening of the injury.
Joint Dysfunction can occur when the pain generator is an irritated facet joint in the neck. It is generally one sided, localized pain that is worse with rotating and looking up. This type of pain can be due to trauma, sustained postures, and even things like nutrition and amount of sleep.
The joint that this pain is generally attributed to is the joint that “pops” during the chiropractic adjustment. More often than not, the adjustment and other exercises we use are helpful in desensitizing the painful joint.
Although these are common for patients to experience, they are also fairly straightforward to treat and respond very well to things like movement, chiropractic adjusting, and home exercise plans. If you feel like this pain is occurring frequently or happening with any regularity, be sure to see a specialist to figure out why that may be.