Musculoskeletal neck pain results from irritation of musculoskeletal structures which make up the neck (or cervical spine) including joints, muscles, ligaments, discs and nerves. Oftentimes, the source of neck pain is a combination of the above listed structures-as our body relies on proper function of all these components to ensure smooth movement throughout our daily activities. If one area of the spine isn’t moving properly or not moving at all, the body will recruit other areas to compensate for this dysfunction. This places extra burden or biomechanical stress on the otherwise “healthy” structures and can thereby result in pain and irritation.
Three major causes or triggers for neck injury (with symptoms including pain, stiffness and/or loss of range of motion) include:
- Postural Imbalance/Repetitive Microtrauma-this type of injury occurs when common, everyday tasks (sitting, driving, computer/desk work, etc.) are performed when using improper biomechanics (poor posture) for extended periods of time. These types of injuries usually appear gradually over time and the symptoms are often worse during periods of fatigue and emotional/mental stress. Over time, when these imbalances and poor postures are not corrected, the result is degenerative change or arthritis. Chiropractors are experts in identifying and correcting these postural imbalances and biomechanical stressors which can cause neck, upper shoulder and back pain and eventually lead to arthritis.
- Trauma-Involvement in a fall or motor vehicle accident may injure the surrounding structures of our spine, such as in a whiplash syndrome. Sprains to joints, ligaments and discs as well as muscle strains are common because of a trauma . Careful examination by a chiropractor or other qualified health care provider is required to rule out injury to the spinal cord or other potentially serious or life threatening injuries. Once this has been ruled out, a chiropractor is specially trained to diagnose and treat the musculoskeletal injuries caused by motor vehicle accidents.
- Arthritis/Degenerative Change- Degenerative changes include many conditions affecting different regions of the spine and include terms such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, spondylosis, osteoarthritis, spurs, osteophytes, stenosis, facet hypertrophy, arthropathy, etc. Many different terms may be used to describe a specific issue or a general issue and the terms used often become a point of confusion.
The role of degenerative arthritis can be summarized as follows:
Arthritic or degenerative change is our body’s natural response to abnormal loads (mechanical stress) placed upon a particular region of the affected joint. Let me explain this by illustrating a process called Wolff’s Law. Wolff’s Law states that when increased loading on a bone occurs, the bone will remodel itself by laying down more bone mass and will become stronger over time to adapt to the increased load forces. This occurs as a natural metabolic process in our body and in fact, our skeleton is replaced every few years as a result of this process. With degenerative change, the same phenomena is true-however, the joint affected by arthritis allows abnormal forces to be placed upon the bone. The bone is then remodeled in an abnormal pattern in an attempt to provide support or buttress the joint. This is why arthritic joints can become painful, stiff, achy and have decreased ranges of motion.
Causes of arthritis or degeneration of the spine include trauma to the affected region earlier in life (see #2 above) and poor biomechanics over an extended period of time (see #1 above).
Chiropractic care can gently and safely restore the natural movement patterns in joints affected by arthritis and degenerative change. By restoring these lost ranges of motion and correcting the mechanics, the degenerative process can be slowed, maintained or reversed in some cases. Improved biomechanics also enhances your body’s healing ability by providing improved circulation and hence, nutrition and oxygen supply to the surrounding joint structures while waste products and inflammation are released from the area. In this way, the techniques used by a chiropractor help to aid your body’s own natural healing process and prevent the degenerative process.