Many people experience neck and back discomfort at sometime in their lives. Problems can occur suddenly after an accident or injury, or may occur as the result of a slow, gradual process due to lack of exercise or poor posture. Incorrect posture throws the head forward and puts a tremendous amount of stress on the muscles in the back of the neck and upper shoulders. Muscles in this position maintain a constant state of contraction, resulting in injury and subsequent discomfort.
Poor sleeping habits, poor work habits, and tension can all contribute to this problem. While tension is not often the primary cause of neck pain, it can certainly worsen pain and make you more prone to injury or symptoms. Failure to exercise opposing muscle groups can also result in neck and shoulder pain. The imbalance of muscle strength can cause chronic or sporadic tension and tightness in these areas.
Some other specific conditions that can lead to muscle deterioration and pain include a sedentary lifestyle and general lack of muscular tone. A healthy, pain-free neck also depends on the condition of your upper back. Because the neck and upper back share the same muscles, the strength and flexibility of the shoulders and upper back muscles are important for keeping the neck balanced.
Pain is also generated when muscles go into spasm. While such a spasm may occur as a protective reflex, it intensifies discomfort by reducing circulation and setting up an inflammatory response. Stress of any kind, physical or emotional, and toxicity may cause spasms in underexercised muscles. Lastly, pressure or “pinching” of the nerves in the spine can cause severe pain that can radiate (travel) down the arms. Significant pain requires evaluation by a doctor, and may require visiting more than one in the search for a solution.
Impingement of bone or disk material on a cervical nerve root can cause neck pain which radiates into the arm, weakness of arm and shoulder muscles, and numbness. The most common cervical radiculopathy is C6-7 which may cause neck/arm pain, weakness of the triceps, and numbness in the middle fingers. The C5-6 root tends to cause numbness in the thumb and index finger in association with deltoid and biceps weakness. The C7-8 root may cause numbness in the ring and little fingers in association with decreased grip strength or fine coordination of the fingers. If the symptoms are mild, no diagnostic testing may be necessary. If severe, an MRI scan of the neck and/or an EMG are helpful in confirming the diagnosis. Conservative therapy consists of warm compresses, cervical collar, physical therapy and occasionally traction. Surgery may be performed to decompress the nerve root by a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon.
Signs, symptoms & indicators of Neck Pain / Problems
Tender posterior neck muscles
Having recent/having chronic neck stiffness
Risk factors for Neck Pain / Problems
Neck Pain / Problems suggests the following may be present
Low Adrenal Function / Adrenal Insufficiency
Observations in both animal models and humans indicate that there is an inflammatory component to cervical radiculopathy. Corticosteroids (such as dexamethasone) are potent anti-inflammatories which may benefit people suffering from this condition. Cortisone, as normally secreted from the adrenal glands, acts as an anti-inflammatory. Low cortisol levels may be associated with inflammation in the cervical spine and resultant radiculopathy.
Recommendations for Neck Pain / Problems
Calming / Stretching Exercises
Yoga exercises may provide the activity needed to achieve greater flexibility, postural balance, and tension relief that will reduce the incidence of neck pain. “Yoga is one of the best methods someone can use to help decrease their back and neck pain,” says Dr. Mary Pulig Schatz, author of A Doctor’s Gentle Yoga Guide to Back and Neck Pain Release.
Neck rolls and orthopedic pillows of different sizes and materials are available for use when sleeping. These help maintain the natural curvature of the cervical spine while lying on your back and can help maintain straightness of the spine and head when lying on your side, if incorporated into a pillow. Using such a roll or pillow can help reduce neck pain. There is even one pillow available, made from memory foam, which has a larger roll at the top and a smaller one at the bottom, giving you the option of rotating the pillow and using the position that provides the most comfort.
Acute neck pain may be relieved by manipulation, especially if the pain is due to a spinal “fixation” or “subluxation” which often requires adjustment for rapid relief.
Simply extending the head back for 30 second periods may improve disc position and assist water flow into dehydrated discs. This may also be performed while lying on your back in bed. Hang your head over the edge, toward the floor. Every thirty seconds or so bring your chin up to your chest and then back down again. Mobility exercises help maintain neck flexibility.
Visualization / Relaxation Techniques
(2009) A study by UCLA psychologists suggests that just the thought of a loved one reduces pain, underscoring the importance of social relationships and staying socially connected.
The study, which asked whether simply looking at a photograph of your significant other can reduce pain, involved 25 women, mostly UCLA students, who had boyfriends with whom they had been in a good relationship for more than six months.
The women received moderately painful heat stimuli to their forearms while they went through a number of different conditions. In one set of conditions, they viewed photographs of their boyfriend, a stranger and a chair.
“When the women were just looking at pictures of their partner, they actually reported less pain to the heat stimuli than when they were looking at pictures of an object or pictures of a stranger,” said study co-author Naomi Eisenberger, assistant professor of psychology and director of UCLA’s Social and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. “Thus, the mere reminder of one’s partner through a simple photograph was capable of reducing pain.”
“This changes our notion of how social support influences people,” she added. “Typically, we think that in order for social support to make us feel good, it has to be the kind of support that is very responsive to our emotional needs. Here, however, we are seeing that just a photo of one’s significant other can have the same effect.”
In another set of conditions, each woman held the hand of her boyfriend, the hand of a male stranger and a squeeze ball. The study found that when women were holding their boyfriends’ hands, they reported less physical pain than when they were holding a stranger’s hand or a ball while receiving the same amount of heat stimulation.
“This study demonstrates how much of an impact our social ties can have on our experience and fits with other work emphasizing the importance of social support for physical and mental health,” Eisenberger said.
One practical piece of advice the authors give is that the next time you are going through a stressful or painful experience, if you cannot bring a loved one with you, a photo may do.
|Strong or generally accepted link|
|May do some good|
|Likely to help|
Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.
Involuntary contraction of one or more muscle groups.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging. A technique used in diagnosis that combines radio waves and magnetic forces to produce detailed images of the internal structures of the body.
Reducing inflammation by acting on body mechanisms, without directly acting on the cause of inflammation, e.g., glucocorticoids, aspirin.