Neck Pain:What helps?

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“You are really becoming a pain in the neck!” is a phrase we’ve all heard and it’s meant as a term of disapproval to those people, things or situations which frustrate us. If you suffer from real, chronic neck pain it’s more than mildly annoying. It hinders your daily activities and in many cases can make life quite burdensome if not miserable! So, depending on your pain level the phrase of disapproval could feel more like a slur of profanity!

Everyone has aches and pains at one time or another in various parts of the body. When it becomes more than a minor side effects of overzealous weekend warrior activities it can definitely slow you down throughout the rest of the week on a rountine basis!

Chronic pain is a serious issue, especially when it’s in the neck. Neck pain that persists can lead to tension or migraine headaches, upper back pain, arm pain or even ear and/or facial pain. How can it affect so much? Nerves. Nerves and muscle of the neck (as with any other part of the body) also help support and inervate the adjacent areas of the body. If the neck is out of balance in any way, these areas will feel the stress of that imbalance.

What causes this imbalance that in turn causes our pain? Most of the time it’s muscle tension and or mis-alignment of the cervical spine. Ok, then what causes muscle tension and cervical mis-alignment? Here is a nonconclusive list of things.

  • poor posture (not keeping head ‘stacked’ over shoulders and shoulders ‘stacked’ over hips with feet facing forward and shoulder width apart)

  • holding an awkward position repetitively and/or for long periods of time

  • a sudden, forceful jarring motion causing a quick forward and backward motion of the head (known as whiplash)

  • lack of head and neck support while sleeping

  • mis-alignment of teeth and/or TMD (Temporal Mandibular Joint Disorder)

  • grinding and clinching teeth

  • Arthritis

  • Bone spurs

  • Degenerative Disc Disease

  • Herniate Disk

The body is designed so that all of it’s parts work together as a highly crafted machine. If one part is out of balance, the whole machine declines somewhat in performance. The spine is designed to “stack” the body so that it works most effeciently. According to the laws of physics, if the head is being held at an angle in front of the body instead of right above the spine it is the same as multiplying the weight of the head (which is normally 8-14 lbs). This could cause the natural curve of the cervical spine (as in the diagram above) to move into a straight line or what’s known as “military spine” (pictured below). If the condition is left to worsen it could reverse it’s curve as in the picture below causing the perceived weight of the head to increase as well as the stress on the joints and muscles causing more damage and pain.

So, how do you eleviate the pain? First, see your dotor for a full medical history and physical exam. There are different treatments ranging form non-invasive relaxation techniques and OTC medication to very invasive procedures such as surgery.

If you’ve been evaluated and find non-invasive treatment as the right option for you then the list below covers some treatments that, if done routinely, can do wonders to relieve pain and stiffness of chronic neck conditions.

  • massage

  • heating pad or warm soak for sore muscles (moist heat is best)

  • cold pack for aching joints

  • stretching exercises for muscles of the neck, shoulders and upper back

  • OTC anti-inflammatory medications (ex. Ibuprofen) and arthritis medications (ex. extra strength acetaminophen)

  • orthopedic pillows

  • regular exercise to maintain weight, decrease stress and strengthen muscles that support proper spinal alignment (especially core muscles)

  • chiropractic adjustments

Stretching exercises specifically for the neck can be done easily with minial equipement.

Lateral Neck Stretch

Take a towel, stand upright with spine 'stacked' and feet shoulder width apart. While holding one corner of the towel in your right hand place your right foot on opposite corner to create a slight pulling sensation in that side of the neck. Gently lean only your head to the left as if you were trying to touch your left ear to your left shoulder increasing the stretch. Hold for 10-20 secs. Repeat this on the left side.

Rotating Neck Stretch

Stand with spine ‘stacked’. Roll shoulders up and back. Clasp hands behind your back and turn head to right holding pose for 10-20 seconds. Repeat on left side.

Upper Back Stretch

Stand with spine ‘stacked’. Raise arms in front of you and parallel to the floor. Cross arms at the wrists and clasp hands. Lower head down until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold for 20 seconds.

Pectoral Stretch

Stand facing a corner approximately 8-12 inches from the wall. Place forearms on either side of corner keeping elbows parallel to the floor. lean forward to feel a gentle stretch in the upper chest. If you do not feel a stetch, slightly increase your distance from the wall. Hold position for 15-20 seconds.

Doing 2 or 3 sets of these exercises several times a week will greatly decrease pain and stiffness while increasing mobility.

As our lives continue to get more and more stressful the toll that stress takes on our bodies is becoming evident in our health. It is past time to do something about it. There are things you can do. Take charge! Stop the constant pain and regain a greater quality of life!


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Understanding Neck Pain

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© 2013 cammyshawn

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