Neck Pain: Assessment, Treatment and Recovery
In today’s world of mobile we cannot avoid tablets and laptops, sat in traffic commuting in and out of towns and cities or if you’re really unlucky crowed public transport crushed in and standing for your journey, whilst moving with the wave motion of the crowd. So it is not surprising that neck pain is the second most common condition that Manchester Osteopaths treat. Whilst neck pain is less common than low back pain, millions of people experience neck pain and related arm pain at some stage in their lives and therefore seek osteopathic treatment.
Neck pain can have many causative factors from abnormalities in the soft tissues – muscles, ligaments, and nerves, as well as in the bone and the joints of the spine. The most common causes that osteopaths identify and treat are joint dysfunction and soft tissue abnormalities from injury or prolonged wear and tear heavily influenced by poor postural adaptations and mechanics.
In many people the cause of pain is not the body but how we actually use it, it’s our action that creates a body with the ability to do well in what we train it to do. So if you sit badly all day it simply gets good at it, this can lead to tension in the upper back, shoulders and arms. When neck pain is caused by muscle strain, you may have aches and stiffness that spread to the upper arm and forearm.
Shooting pain that spreads down the arm into the hand and fingers can be a symptom of an irritated nerve in the neck. When a nerve is irritated in the neck, numbness, weakness and possibly pain of the hands or arms may occur.
Disc injury is rare but it is a common cause of nerve irritation.
Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain has numerous causes such as: trauma/accident/sports injury, overuse, wear and tear, and poor posture.
They can ultimately lead to pain due to injury of the structures surrounding the spine, such as muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, discs, blood vessels and nerves.
Injuries to the neck caused by a sudden movement of the head backwards and forwards or sideways, are referred to as “whiplash”. This is most commonly thought of when in relation to road traffic accidents, suffered as a result of an impact or collision causing the head to suddenly jerk back and forth beyond its normal limits; however the action of a whiplash injury can also be caused from sports injuries and falls/accidents at work.
If you suspect a whiplash injury or been in a accident it always needs a full assessment and if necessary an X-Ray or MRi scan.
For further information about the treatment of whiplash…
Overuse or Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)
These injuries are often created due to poor use including poor pre/post workouts and the actual function of the body in the activity. With the body tissues there is a constant process of breakdown and repair which can be influenced according to how we use it, RSI develops when the balance is upset from increased use and impaired healing.
RSI itself is caused by mechanical irritation from the way it’s used, this upsets the body’s natural ability to maintain balance and heal. Mechanical irritation of the body tissues can create an inflammatory state affecting the fibrous tissue covering the soft tissue. The actual damage can be from the repetitive movements such as throwing or desk work with the mouse, damage can be to the tendons, nerves muscles and ligaments.
Often problems in the spinal joints and the position of the neck and upper back can aggravate or even cause RSI to develop in the arms and hands as we adapt to altered mechanics to compensate. The nerve supply, which controls both the tension in the muscles and blood supply of the arms comes from the neck can be irritated.
RSI may present as tightness, discomfort, stiffness or pain in the neck, arms or hands. If the nerves are irritated you may experience tingling, coldness or numbness in the hands. There may also be an associated clumsiness, loss of hand strength and loss of co-ordination.
Aches and pains are a part of life and something we all experience at some point, the body has a great ability to deal with and given the right environment, however if your symptoms are progressive, persistent or recurrent get them checked out.
Wear and Tear
Wear and Tear is a term to describe the degenerative changes that occur over a period of time due to the accumulation of stresses and trauma. OA (osteoarthritis) is one of the commonly known conditions.
The spine is required to handle considerable loads just as a result of the pressures of daily living. The effects of degenerative changes of the spine lead to a feeling of stiffness and reduced spinal mobility.
However, just like any other part of the body, the better care that is taken of the spine, the less degeneration is likely to occur.
Osteopathic treatment of degenerative changes can be very effective by helping you maintain correct movement, improved function with guidance on keeping the joint mobile and tension free.
Osteopaths recognise your posture is one of the major influences on your spine. Throw in a few traumas and injuries and you body will struggle to maintain a healthy healing environment.
Poor posture affects how your body responds to everyday pressure and activities including sports. Treatment, assessment and management combined with a plan to help you rehabilitate it can save you days of pain in the future.
The amount of time spent sitting is a good example of poor posture and a major influence on the body in a negative way; sitting affects the pressure on the discs in your whole spine altering the musculature alignment and patterns which compensate for the restrictions.
The body works better when moved correctly and regularly, were not designed for the long periods of stillness at the desk, with movement helping the physiology of the body particularly the blood flow due to muscle function and lymphatic system to eliminate lactic acids etc. Tense muscles fatigue easier with further increasing the musculature changes.
Over time a poor posture can damage spinal structures and become the cause of recurrent episodes of pain. Osteopaths and Physio’s place a lot of emphasis on maintaining your posture in the working environment. It’s also important to make sure your exercise regime helps keep your body fit, strong and able to handle you daily activities.
With neck pain there is no one size fits all with an assessment and diagnosis crucial for treatment and management.