Neck pain is the second most common complaint we treat. Most neck pain is overwhelmingly the result of poor postural habits and lifting strategies. The pain we feel — whether in the neck, the shoulder(s), or down the arm(s) — is the body’s request for change, not an indication something is broken, needing to be “fixed.” By taking the time to understand the problem and how it behaves, we can apply the right tool for the job — only then can we achieve a solution.
WHAT IT IS
Neck pain is most commonly of mechanical nature, meaning how we move and use our body. If your neck pain changes — for better or worse — with varying movement and positions accompanied by stiffness or loss of range of motion, you likely are suffering from mechanical neck pain.
Acute neck pain is an episode lasting no longer than six weeks, which is more common than chronic neck pain lasting longer than three months.
Because the nerve supply to your arms stems from the spinal cord within the spinal column, poor spinal mechanics can alter the signals from your brain to the muscles. It is not uncommon to experience symptoms such as pain, muscle weakness, or numbness and tingling anywhere down your arm(s), with or without local neck symptoms!
We have assessed and successfully treated many medical diagnoses where the source of the problem is located at the spine. Examples include:
- Upper back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Shoulder blade pain
- Jaw pain
- Arm weakness
- Tennis elbow
- Golfer’s Elbow
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Numbness/tingling in the fingers
- Thumb pain
In rare cases, neck pain can indicate a serious medical problem requiring immediate attention.
If you experience dizziness, double vision, difficulty speaking/swallowing, direct trauma, or unexplained weight loss accompanied by neck pain, seek immediate medical attention.
WHAT IT ISN’T
The pain we feel is simply a request from our brain to change. Pain is often not associated with damage, rather a very apparent alert we need to change our physical behavior or else physical impairment will proceed.
Mechanical neck pain does not have to be debilitating.
Just because you have neck pain doesn’t mean you need an MRI. Just because your MRI shows “degeneration,” “disc bulges,” or “arthritis,” doesn’t mean it’s generating your pain. And just because you have neck pain does not mean you’re broken, needing to be “fixed”. Neck pain is often unassociated with aforementioned structural changes commonly found from imaging, e.g. X-ray, CT scan, MRI. Furthermore, there’s a high prevalence of interpretive errors between radiologists. So, not only does imaging your spine result in a high rate of irrelevant findings, the professionals interpreting them cannot concisely agree upon diagnoses!
To learn more about the problems of MRI regarding muscle and joint pain, click here to read our evidence-based blog post on the topic.
COMMON CAUSES OF NECK PAIN
Mechanical neck pain is most commonly caused by poor body mechanics and postural habits.
Humans are meant to move and move often — not sit in chairs and stare at electronic screens for hours on end. From infancy through the first year of life, we learn to how to move, setting us up for the rest of our lives.
Mechanical neck pain can occur suddenly from something as reaching forward for a glass of water, or can gradually occur for no apparent reason.
Pain from reaching forward or overhead is not because doing it is inherently bad, rather it’s the result of the accumulated stress of sitting with your head sticking forward and hiking your shoulders up into your ears when using your arms — the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to say.
Think about the average desk worker’s day: sit for breakfast, sit in the car to work, sit at the desk, sit for lunch, back to sitting at the desk, sit in the car back home, sit in front of the T.V. — you get the point.
The accumulative postural stress of sitting as a daily habit is like bending your finger backward. It may not hurt at first, but the longer you hold it there, and the more pressure you apply over time, it will start to feel uncomfortable and aching. When you let go of the finger, you’ll have a residual ache, but you’ll notice the pain quickly subsides. This is mechanical pain and is similar to what the typical American with neck pain experiences.
So, what happens when you lift something heavy with poor form after sitting with your head sticking out all day? It’s like cranking that finger back as far as it can go…and it’s probably going to hurt longer after you let go of it!
COMMON TREATMENTS FOR NECK PAIN
The most common treatments are rest, medication, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and other various conservative therapies.
While most acute bouts of neck pain will resolve on their own within a few weeks, the risk of recurrence is very high. The greatest risk of injury is the previous injury — if you’ve done it once, it’s very likely to happen again.
Few individuals need surgery for neck pain. Have a disc bulge? Even if it’s relevant, disc herniations have been shown to resolve on their own without surgery.
If you have intense and unrelenting radiating pain down the arm with progressive muscle weakness, or specific structural problems not responding to conservative therapy, surgery may be warranted.
WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT NECK PAIN
With all mechanical pain, there’s a ‘what’ and a ‘why’ — what the problem is and why it’s occurring in the first place. To achieve resolution it’s crucial to not only identify and correct the problem at hand but address the behaviors which lead to the issue’s occurrence. Here are some self-help tips:
- Keep moving
- Avoid sitting for longer than 30-minutes at a time
- Take micro-breaks: stretch, use the bathroom, grab a snack, move around
- Sit with upright posture with lumbar support
- Learn proper shoulder & lifting mechanics: click here for video link
- Take mental notes of what you are doing when your pain feels better or worse to identify any behavioral patterns
STILL STRUGGLING WITH NECK PAIN? WE CAN HELP!
Our approach isn’t to just “fix” the problem, rather understand what it is and what it isn’t, so the correct treatment is applied to the right problem — only then can we achieve a solution. Why use a hammer if you’re not positive it’s a nail? The last thing you want is to hammer away at a screw!
REACH initiates treatment for neck pain by utilizing the Mckenzie Method (MDT). MDT is a proven system of examination, treatment, and classification of spinal, joint, and other musculoskeletal pain, backed by years of research, evidence, and practice. The System has been shown to be low cost, fast, and effective even for chronic pain.
By exploring simple movements in repetition that improve or worsen your symptoms and functional baselines (e.g., walking, stepping, lifting, reaching, bending, muscle strength), we can understand how your pain behaves.
If a mechanical force caused the problem then it is logical that a mechanical force may be part of the solution. The MDT system is designed to identify the mechanical problem and develop a plan to correct or improve the mechanics, thus decrease or eliminate the pain and functional problems. Further, the system tells us what treatment tool to use at the appropriate time, eliminating the guessing game.
Once we identify a movement(s) which improves your baselines, you’re on your way to controlling your pain yourself, not needing your chiropractor on a repetitive basis. If your problem is something we are unable to treat, the McKenzie assessment will tell us this within the first few visits, and then we recommend the next best course of action to find you a solution.
Sick of suffering the same old symptoms, but nervous to reach out to a pro for help? Schedule a courtesy call to ask a REACH Doc. We’ll point you in the right direction!