Most people don’t realize that your head is 14-16 pounds balancing on a very flexible stick. The amount of flexibility in the neck, along with the fact that the neck has the least amount of muscle stabilization in the whole spine, means that the neck can be injured very easily.
Your spinal cord runs through your vertebra and has many branches called spinal nerves, and these are the nerves that send impulses to every part of your body. Some of these bundles of nerves go down the arms and upper back. This means that if you experience pain in the upper back or symptoms in the arms and hands such as numbness, tingling, cold, or pain… the problem could actually be the neck!
Many times these symptoms can be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, which is common in people who work with computers or sit for their work. These extended periods of sitting and repetitive motions can lead to neck pain, but also contribute to headaches and muscle spasms. In fact, a multitude of symptoms can occur in the neck and even cause problems elsewhere in the body.
So what are the 5 most common neck pain symptoms?
Achiness/Stiffness: The neck has several regions, and in particular the middle and lower neck can become stiff and sore easiest. When we sit for long periods at a computer, we also put uneven wear and tear on the neck that leads to early degeneration. When the joints in your neck begin to degenerate (also known as arthritis of the spine), they become stiff and sore unless the problem is fixed.
Headaches: Did you know that 90% of headaches are preventable and fixable? A large number of headaches are caused by misalignments of the neck, causing muscles to spasm and placing pressure on the spinal nerves. This extra pressure and stress on the nervous system causes headaches. Frequently, the headaches may occur at the base of your skull and feel like it is traveling to the forehead like a band of “tension”. These headaches respond very well to conservative treatment of the misaligned neck.
Muscle Spasms: When the neck is injured or is unstable, the muscles must pick up the slack and support the neck. This is very common after a whiplash accident, but can also occur with poor posture. When the spine is not stable, our muscles contract to guard the joint and important spinal nerves. Over time, the muscle becomes strained and causes pain. If the joints in the neck are restored to normal function, then the muscle can relax.
Loss of Mobility: The neck is unique in that it has so many ranges of motion, moreso than any other region of the spine. After repetitive motions, such as sitting office work at a computer, the joints become overused and misaligned with a form of arthritis. Because our necks have so many motions, they are at a higher risk to have arthritis until it becomes difficult to turn your head or look in a certain direction. Fortunately, this motion can be restored through non-surgical methods.
Disc Bulges: Between your vertebra is a circle of cartilage called a “vertebra disc” that helps with mobility and flexibility. Once someone begins to develop arthritis of the neck, we usually see a disc bulge or a disc herniation. This most commonly happens in the lower neck, and the bulge places pressure on your spinal nerves and cause other problems. Typically, a disc bulge will send symptoms down the arms and hands that is easily confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, or the symptoms may go down your shoulder blade with a deep achiness. Disc bulges and herniations come in grades, but can be improved and even prevented without the need for surgery.
The causes for these symptoms are by a number of factors, and are usually a combination of several causes. Most causes of neck pain are chronic in nature, meaning they grow slowly over time until they are in a more advanced state. It is important that neck pain is addressed early to avoid spinal surgery and medications in the future.
Here are the 4 most common causes of neck pain:
Injuries: The most common injury to the neck is whiplash, which is a sudden movement of the head that damages the supporting muscles and ligaments. Even a 10 mph fender bender has enough force to cause whiplash. Usually the symptoms can take weeks or months to develop, and some research even shows symptoms can develop a few years after a motor vehicle accident because of the long-term damage to the supporting ligaments. Injuries can take time to manifest in the neck, and unfortunately some damage may be permanent if someone waits for symptoms to develop. If you have a motor vehicle accident or any other kind of injury, be sure to get checked out and don’t just assume you weren’t really hurt!
Poor Posture: The way we sit and stand is also one of the main causes of neck pain and even headaches. Many of us carry these bad habits without even realizing it—how often do we see someone staring down to text on their phone or read a book in bed with their neck curled forward. Many of us also have “anterior head carriage”, which is typical of office workers and people who work on computers. Have a friend or family member look at your profile. If your head juts forward past your shoulders, you may have anterior head carriage.
Misalignments of the Spine: Because our necks are meant to be mobile, a misalignment of the vertebra changes the way we turn our heads or look up and down. This uneven pressure and wearing on the vertebra eventually leads to arthritis and pain. This is also a major cause of muscle spasms in the neck, as our muscles must work overtime to try and keep the neck stable. These misalignments occur in several regions of the neck. Where the base of your skull meets the neck, at the middle of the neck where the stresses of gravity are the greatest, and at the base of the neck as the cervical spine transitions into the thoracic spine. While you need a professional to check for misalignments, you can sometimes see changes for yourself if you look in the mirror. Are your ears level when you are standing naturally? Is one shoulder higher than the other? These misalignments can get worse over time as the body tries to adapt to the instability.
Stress: Today’s world is very fast-paced and high-stress. When we are in a stressful situation, our muscles will unconsciously contract, particularly in the neck and shoulders. This is a defensive response called “muscle guarding”, and helps your body protect important structures such as spinals nerves. Chronic muscle spasms develop trigger points that are painful to the touch. Physical stress (injury, labor), emotional stress (feelings), and chemical stress (diet) all affect our bodies and the tension in our muscles. When the physical effects of stress are decreased, the muscles can relax and relieve the pain in the upper back and neck.
Get relief from your back pain with Dr Tyler Nigus – Chiropractor of Overland Park!
Call or visit our office:
7295 W 97th St
Overland Park, KS 66212