To understand the causes of neck pain, a good starting point is to learn how the neck works.
The neck is formed by 7 bones known as the cervical vertebrae. These bones link together with facet joints which allow the neck to move from left to right, up and down with the aid of neck muscles. Cartilage discs or ‘intervertebral discs’ between the neck bones have nerve roots that send signals through the spinal cord. These signals are recognised by the brain as touch and pain. The cervical vertebrae also supports the head and protects the spinal cord.
Common Neck Problems
Over time the intervertebral discs thin and the facet joints wear down which causes narrowing of the spaces between the neck bones. This degeneration leads to ‘bone spurs.’ Bone spurs (osteophytes) form on the edges of vertebrae and facet joints causing a condition called ‘spondylosis.’ Like osteoarthritis, spondylosis is a degenerative condition recognisable by signs like stiffness and joint pain.
Painkillers offer temporary relief but for a more lasting and satisfactory solution, it is advised that you consult with an osteopathic specialist who can prescribe exercises and other treatments that offer better relief.
Your neck is particularly vulnerable when driving and highly prone to ‘whiplash’ in the case of a car accident. In a car crash, the head is thrown forward causing stretched ligaments and muscle spasms. In order to recover from whiplash, gentle exercise is necessary to speed up the healing process and prevent long term effects of the injury.
For muscles to function properly, the body needs to be upright. This can prove difficult if you spend long hours doing a desk job, driving or other jobs that are sedentary in nature. There is a tendency to hunch down over the keyboard or at the wheel which gradually contributes to weak or tense muscles in the neck.
Other factors include stress, uncomfortable sleeping positions and uncomfortable seating, all of which can lead to neck pain as well as back pain. A combination of relaxation and light to moderate exercise will counteract the effects of this type of neck pain so long as it is kept up and effort is made to maintain a better posture.
If you have a desk job, try and arrange your workspace in a way that stops you from leaning over for prolonged periods. Take time to get up at regular intervals and move around so as not to stiffen up. Stand up, stretch and do other mild exercises to stay supple and avoid pain.
Painkillers Or Osteopathy?
Is it possible to treat the pain with painkillers? Is it better to have physiotherapy and completely shun pain killers?The answer is that painkillers can be used in moderation to supplement a course of osteopathy but you won’t get by on medicine alone.
A trained osteopath knows how to identify the issues affecting bones, muscle tissue, joints and ligaments.
A reputable osteopath can pin point the problem and provide drug and surgery free solutions to the pain through physiotherapy, exercise and massage. If you are experiencing neck pain you could try the following exercises
The Neck Tilt
With due care, tilt your ear towards your shoulder (left and right) for approx fives seconds. Alternate from right to left or left to right making sure to return your head to it’s normal position.
The Neck Turn
With your chin turned to one side of your shoulder, tense your neck muscles gently for approx 5 seconds before returning to the normal position and repeating the process towards your other shoulder. Repeat this a number of times then rest.
The Neck Stretch
While keeping your body in a normal position, bring your neck forward with your chin to ‘stretch’ your neck then return it to the normal position. Repeat this for 5 times then rest.
The Shoulder Shrug
Just as it sounds, lift your shoulders gently and release them to get rid of tension around the neck and shoulders
The Sitting Back Extension
Sit straight, keep your feet together, place your palms into the small of your back. Gently stretch back with your palms still on your lower back to stretch it out.
Doing these exercises on a regular basis should help to decrease neck pain. If despite these tips, you are still experiencing severe pain, the best course of action is to consult with a specialist at the first opportunity.
In most cases, there is a solution to the pain through the right course of osteopathic treatment.