The neck, or cervical spine, consists of 7 vertebrae. The neck is an incredibly important structure, with the top of your neck holding the skull. The cervical spine and discs are there to protect the spinal cord and spinal nerves, just as the skull is there to protect the brain. In an average adult, the weight of the skull and brain can range from 4.5-5kg.
The neck is responsible for movement in many directions, including bending forward, backwards, side-to-side as well as rotating both left and right. As the neck is the most mobile part of the spine, it is highly susceptible to injury, and poor alignment. Not only do we have 7 cervical vertebrae, we have spinal discs located in between each vertebra with 26 muscles holding it all together. These muscles attach to various bones of the skull, the cervical spine, the thoracic (middle back) and the shoulders. As a result, people experience not just neck pain but often headaches and upper back and shoulder pain too.
Common Causes of Neck Pain:
As mentioned earlier, the neck is quite a complex structure – there can be many reasons why people experience neck pain.
Postural Changes: If the spine is not aligned properly, the structures within the complex can become strained and under pressure. As the spine houses the nervous system and is designed to function most optimally when aligned, any postural changes will have a detrimental effect to the health of the spine and the nervous system and can ultimately lead to neck pain.
Spinal Degeneration: With prolonged postural stress or with trauma, the spine can degenerate at faster than usual rates as a result of wear and tear. As we age, a certain degree of spinal degeneration is expected (note; arthritic changes). Nevertheless, any degree of spinal degeneration can lead to pain, no matter where it is in the body. Ensuring your spine has correct alignment will help the spine function as it is supposed to, therefore slowing down any degeneration caused by improper alignment.
Trauma i.e.whiplash: This occurs when the head moves backwards and then forwards very quickly. This commonly occurs in car accidents whether from a small or high speed impact. It can also occur from other neck traumas causing this type of movement. Symptoms of whiplash include neck pain, a decrease in the amount of movement of the neck and tightness through the muscles. General tenderness to touch and headaches are also a common finding with whiplash type injuries, due to damage to surrounding tissue.
Medical conditions: Although rare, causes of neck pain can also be of a serious nature such as tumours, infections or fractures.
How can chiropractic help with neck pain?
There is mounting evidence that conservative treatment such as chiropractic adjustments are favourable for neck pain of both acute and chronic nature (1). Depending on cause of injury, chronicity, severity and type of injury, significant results can occur after a few visits.
Bryans R, et al. Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Chiropractic Treatment of Adults With Neck Pain. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. January 2014. Vol 37(1). Pages 42-63.