Did you know that the smallest vertebrae in your spine supports the most vital organ in your body- the brain? Incredibly, the cervical spine supports the full weight of your head, which is on average about 12 pounds. Your neck, also called the cervical spine, begins at the base of the skull and contains seven small vertebrae. While the cervical spine can move your head in nearly every direction, this flexibility makes the neck very susceptible to pain and injury.
Neck pain is not only limited to the cervical region but can affect your head and shoulders. The pain can be quite significant and reduce the range of motion quite dramatically. There are many factors than can effect the health of your cervical spine.
Whiplash is a term describing a range of injuries to the neck caused by a sudden forced movement of the head or neck in any direction and the resulting quick return of the head in the opposite direction. The sudden “whipping” motion injures the surrounding and supporting tissues of the neck and head. The muscles react by tightening and contracting, creating muscle fatigue. Some symptoms include neck pain or stiffness, pain between the shoulder blades, blurred vision, fatigue, headache, and dizziness, just to name a few. A severe whiplash can also be associated with injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, muscles, and compression of the nerve roots. Whiplash is most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents but can be sustained through sports or even slips or falls around the house.
While technology continues to improve our lives in many ways, the hour after endless hour typing, texting and scrolling has put the younger generations at risk for injuries. The poor posture caused by hunching over a keyboard or peering into tiny hand held screen is putting our computer generation at risk for neck injuries. The number of injuries has become so apparent that an increasing numbers of companies have not only ergonomically modified their offices but incorporated spinal wellness programs. They realized that the investment has had great return. An article from the American Journal of Health Promotions noted that, for every dollar that a company invested in a company wellness program, they generally received a return of between $2.13 and $10.10. Not a bad investment! An estimated 75% of companies in the Fortune 500 have a wellness program, as do 81% of companies with 50 employees or more.
Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles often disrupt spinal balance, causing the neck to bend forward to compensate. The postural stress can contribute to not only chronic neck pain but symptoms that extend into the upper back, arms, and frequently the low back.
Prolonged stress and emotional tension will also cause muscles to tighten and contract and our posture to pull forward which may hunch our shoulders. Sustained stress and emotional tension results in pain and stiffness.
How Can Chiropractic Treatment Help?
During your visit, your doctor of chiropractic will perform exams to locate the source of your pain and will ask you questions about your current symptoms and remedies you may have already tried. For example:
- When did the pain start?
- What have you done for your neck pain?
- Does the pain radiate or travel to other parts of your body?
- Does anything reduce the pain or make it worse?
Your doctor of chiropractic will also do physical and neurological exams. In the physical exam, your doctor will observe your posture, range of motion, and physical condition, noting movement that causes pain. Your doctor will feel your spine, note its curvature and alignment, and feel for muscle spasm. A check of your shoulder area is also in order. During the neurological exam, your doctor will test your reflexes, muscle strength, other nerve changes, and pain spread.
In some instances, your chiropractor might order tests to help diagnose your condition. An x-ray can show narrowed disc space, fractures, bone spurs, or arthritis. A computerized axial tomography scan (a CT or CAT scan) or a magnetic resonance imaging test (an MRI) can show bulging discs and herniations. If nerve damage is suspected, your doctor may order a special test called electromyography (an EMG) to measure how quickly your nerves respond.
Chiropractors are conservative care doctors; their scope of practice does not include the use of drugs or surgery. If your chiropractor diagnoses a condition outside of this conservative scope, such as a neck fracture or an indication of an organic disease, he or she will refer you to the appropriate medical physician or specialist. He or she may also ask for permission to inform your family physician of the care you are receiving to ensure that your chiropractic care and medical care are properly coordinated.
A neck adjustment (also known as a cervical manipulation) is a precise procedure applied to the joints of the neck, usually by hand. A neck adjustment works to improve the mobility of the spine and to restore range of motion; it can also increase movement of the adjoining muscles. Patients typically notice an improved ability to turn and tilt the head, and a reduction of pain, soreness, and stiffness.
Of course, your chiropractor will develop a program of care that may combine more than one type of treatment, depending on your personal needs. In addition to manipulation, the treatment plan may include mobilization, massage or rehabilitative exercises, or something else.
Research Supporting Chiropractic Care
One of the most recent reviews of scientific literature found evidence that patients with chronic neck pain enrolled in clinical trials reported significant improvement following chiropractic spinal manipulation.
As part of the literature review, published in the March/April 2007 issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, the researchers reviewed nine previously published trials and found “high-quality evidence” that patients with chronic neck pain showed significant pain-level improvements following spinal manipulation. No trial group was reported as having remained unchanged, and all groups showed positive changes up to 12 weeks post-treatment.
Dr. Grey Gardner