By far one of the most common injuries that I treat in our clinic is a stiff and painful neck.
Many of us know the feeling when you are driving and it is difficult just to shoulder check because your neck just doesn’t seem to want to turn far enough.
Neck pain often sneaks up on us, starting without any actual injury and slowly worsening over months. At first neck pain is often only sore occasionally, like when you first wake up in the morning, or maybe after you sit at the computer typing out emails for an hour or two.
Then, slowly, it becomes more of a constant ache, and then the ache starts to worsen and at times becomes a sharp pain. Before you know it you are taking pain medication on a daily basis so you can get through your busy day.
To understand why this pain occurs, we need to know some basic anatomy of the spine.
The neck is made up of seven bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae are stacked on top of one another and when naming them you start at the top of the neck (at the base of the skull) which is ‘C1’ and it counts down to the bottom of the neck which is ‘C7’.
Because of how the spine is shaped the majority of the problems in the spine happen at C4, C5 and C6. This is the area in the neck that takes the most amount of strain from everyday activities, like when you have to spend hours driving or if you spend a lot of time sitting at a computer with poor posture.
After a certain age everyone will have some amount of arthritis in their neck.
Mild arthritis is a normal age-related process that occurs over many years. Arthritis is the process of a ‘wearing out’ of the bones and discs that lie between each bone.
As we age the discs dry up and the bones are forced to take more and more strain. This causes a thickening of the bone and sometimes can cause bone spurs and/or a narrowing of the space between each bone where the nerves exit the spine.
The majority of people have only mild to moderate arthritis in their neck, and for the most part it isn’t enough to actually cause neck pain. If it was, as soon as we reached 50 years of age or so we would all have constant neck pain.
Of course this is not the case, but then if it isn’t arthritis, what is the cause of us not being able to shoulder check while we drive?
More often than not the pain in our neck is caused by muscles becoming tight and sore as well as the joints getting stiff.
Muscle tightening and joint stiffness limits neck movement and begins to cause aching pain.
Nerves in the neck can also become irritated from all of the neck tightness, leading to more pain.
So how do we get rid of the pain?
The key to getting rid of neck pain is to loosen the muscles and the joints so that the neck can move normally again. This can be done by manual hands-on treatment techniques in the clinic as well as by specific stretching exercises for home.
Remember, the best treatment is always prevention.
Make sure to sit and stand ‘tall’ throughout the day.
Avoid spending hours and hours sitting at your computer or driving without taking a few breaks to stretch out along the way.
Summer is on its way and you want to be able to get outside and enjoy it without thinking about that darn pain in the neck!