Most people do not realize how much they move their neck during the day until they are unable to do so. The degree of flexibility of the neck, coupled with the fact that it has the least amount of muscular stabilization and it has to support and move your 14 – 16 pound head, means that the neck is very susceptible to injury. You can picture your neck and head much like a bowling ball being held on top of a stick by small, thin, elastic bands. It doesn’t take much force to disrupt that delicate balance. Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, spinal misalignments, stress, and in some cases, disc problems.
The spinal cord runs through a space in the vertebrae (bones of the spine) to send nerve impulses to every part of the body. Between each pair of cervical vertebrae, the spinal cord sends off large bundles of nerves that run down the arms and to some degree, the upper back. This means that if your arm is hurting, it may actually be a problem in the neck! Symptoms in the arms can include numbness, tingling, cold, aching, and “pins and needles”.
These symptoms can be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition in the hands that is often found in people who work at computer keyboards or perform other repetitive motion tasks for extended periods. Problems in the neck can also contribute to headaches, muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper back, ringing in the ears, otitis media (inflammation in the middle ear, often mistaken for an ear infection in children), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), restricted range of motion, and chronic tightness in the neck, upper back, and shoulders.
We associate the neck and upper back together, because most of the muscles that are associated with the neck either attach to, or are located in, the upper back. These muscles include the trapezius, the levator scapulae, the cervical paraspinal muscles, and the scalenes, as well as others.
The Causes of Neck and Upper Back Pain
Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, spinal misalignments, stress, and in some instances, disc problems.
By far, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury. Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head, either backward, forward, or sideways, that results in the damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back. Whether from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, whiplash injuries need to be taken very seriously. Because symptoms of a whiplash injury can take weeks or months to manifest, it is easy to be fooled into thinking that you are not as injured as you really are. Too often people don’t seek treatment following a car accident or sports injury because they don’t feel hurt. Unfortunately, by the time more serious complications develop, some of the damage from the injury may have become permanent. Don’t wait, if you have suffered a neck injury, call us today!
One of the most common causes of neck pain, and sometimes headaches, is poor posture. It’s easy to get into bad posture habits without even realizing it – even an activity as “innocent” as reading in bed can ultimately lead to pain, headaches, and more serious problems.
Spinal Misalignments (Subluxations)
Spinal misalignments in the neck and upper back area are extremely common due to the high degree of stress associated with holding up your head, coupled with the high degree of instability in the cervical spine. Signs of spinal misalignment include looking in the mirror and seeing your head tilted or one shoulder higher than the other. Often women will notice that their sleeve length is different or that a necklace is hanging off center. If someone looks at you from the side they may notice that your head sits forward from your shoulders. This is known as forward head posture, and is very common for people who are stooped over their computers all day long. Spinal misalignments do not resolve on their own. And if they are not taken care of soon after they occur, then they can cause more and more wear and tear on the body, even affecting the nerves.
When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles, in particular, the muscles in their neck and back. This ‘muscle guarding’ is a survival response designed to guard against injury. In today’s world where we are not exposed to physical danger most of the time, muscle guarding still occurs whenever we become emotionally stressed. For most of us, the particular muscle affected by stress is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points.
The discs in your cervical spine (neck) can herniate or bulge and put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. Although cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as lumbar discs do, it can occur especially when the discs sustain damage from a whiplash type injury.
Neck And Upper Back Pain Treatment
Common medical treatments for neck and upper back pain include pills, injections, and in severe cases, surgery. However, pain medications, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatory medications only serve to mask the symptoms of pain, tight muscles, and inflammation. The medications do not address the REASON for these symptoms, often leading to multiple flare-ups and a lifetime of dealing with pain and restricted activities. And while surgery is necessary in some severe cases, it is an extreme and irreversible treatment option that should be saved as a last resort in most cases.
Instead of just masking the symptoms, why not find out the cause? At West Chester Chiropractic Center, we will look at the entire body with a thorough examination and any necessary x-rays, as well as taking a complete history in order to determine all the factors that resulted in your neck and upper back pain. Once the true cause of your condition is determined, we will put together an individualized treatment plan to get you back to enjoying your life without pain or restrictions. The treatment we offer in our office is effective, safe, non-invasive, and often shows immediate improvement in your movement and function. Treatment can include chiropractic adjustments, therapeutic exercises, decompression/traction, and soft tissue therapy such as medical massage.
The primary treatment offered by chiropractors is called an adjustment. An adjustment restores normal motion and position of your bones and joints. Chiropractic care is often more effective, cheaper, and has better long-term outcomes than any other treatment. This makes sense because chiropractic care is the only method of treatment that serves to re-establish normal spinal motion and position in the spine. All other treatments, such as muscle relaxants, pain killers and bed rest, only serve to decrease the symptoms of the problem and do not correct the problem itself. And chiropractic care is safe for the entire family! We offer a variety of chiropractic adjustment techniques, which are gentle enough even for newborn babies.
Do not put off treatment any longer. Living in pain is not normal. Get back to the life you want to live. Contact our chiropractors . . . we can help!