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Neck Pain: What We Know

Holding up all those beautiful, knowledge-filled brains day in and day out can be hard work! Once in a while, our necks decide to throw in the towel. Only second to low back pain, neck pain affects most of us (~80%) at some point in our lifetime. Neck pain and its associated disorders can include pain in the upper back, dizziness and headache. The good news is most neck pain is uncomplicated and clears up. The bad news is, it is likely to pop back into your life at some point again.

Neck pain is typically categorized into four grades, ranging from one to four, increasing in severity. Grade 1 may resemble the classic ‘I slept funny’ kink in your neck and grade 4 may represent pain due to a fracture or systemic disease. So, when do I seek help? What can I expect? What’s a no-no for neck pain? How do I prevent/minimize future occurrences? Answers comin’ atchya! 

When to get checked

Great question! Here are some general guidelines:

  • If you’ve experienced trauma like a major fall, car accident, etc. Get it checked!

  • When it is interfering with your activities of daily living.

  • If you aren’t able to get things done that you are normally able to do, it may be time to get some help.

  • If it’s lasting longer than you think it should or is it not progressing the way you think it should based on your experience with other injuries. 

  • If the pain is starting to spread to other areas or is affecting your arms or hands. 

  • If you start to experience unusual headaches, abnormal vision or the pain is affecting your sleep.

What are the best approaches to treating neck pain

If your neck pain is uncomplicated and mechanical in nature, meaning it’s relating to the muscles, soft tissues or joints, there are some ways that a chiropractor/physiotherapist/health care provider may be able to help get you back to checking your blindspot and watching tennis matches. For uncomplicated neck pain not affecting the nerves going into your arms and hands, here are some things to expect when seeking help:

  • Recommendations to get moving!

  • Manual therapy which may include joint mobilizations, manipulation, soft tissue therapy and maybe acupuncture.

  • Lots of education!!

  • Explaining the anatomy, the dos and don'ts and other nerdy stuff.

  • Supervised exercise and independent exercise using no equipment or maybe some resistance bands.

  • Reassurance and a plan for recovery!!

What are things we don’t generally do anymore

Science changes fast, not everyone keeps up. Here are some things we don’t really see to be of benefit for uncomplicated neck pain:

  • Neck/cervical collars- The longer we immobilize joints, the harder we make recovery. There are always unique situations that would call for those fancy airplane pillows but generally we’ve gotta get that neck moving. 

  • Cortisone injections or surgery- Nah! Though there is still some evidence that these interventions may have relevance for those suffering from neck pain with arm/hand weakness. 

  • X-rays-  We don’t really care about the level of degeneration or arthritis in your neck. This is generally not an indication of how much pain you are in.

  • Taking time off work- Those who get back to normal activities faster are typically the ones that feel better faster!

How to future proof

Varying practitioners will have varying theories, techniques and protocols on how to prevent injury, particularly of the neck. Here are some things I think are helpful to focus on:

  • Deep neck flexor training- A common site of weakness in patients with recurring neck pain is weakness of the deep flexor muscles of the neck.

  • Scapular positional training- Several muscles involved in the movements of the neck also attach to our shoulder blades (scapulae). Ensuring proper functioning and activation of the scapulae can help support the neck pain prehab mission.

  • Improving mobility- Like other areas of the body, our joints are theoretically less prone to injury if we have good control of them throughout expansive ranges. 

  • Improving core stability- A strong and well-coordinated core can create the foundation for a healthy spine and neck.

These are all jumping-off points. Find a trusted practitioner to guide you through these in a safe, effective way (or just come see us :P). Disclaimer: This is not personal medical/health advice. It is not meant for you, specifically. If something is going on, please seek out professional health provider. 

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