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A Patient's Guide to Neck Pain

Neck pain is a common reason people visit Kleefeld Chiropractic.  Although neck pain can be caused by injury for example an automobile accident, more often than not it develops over time from the stress and strain of daily activities. Eventually, the spinal joints degenerate and this becomes a source of neck pain.

Knowing how your neck normally works and why you feel pain is an important part of helping you care for your neck problem.  At Kleefeld Chiropractic we have found that patients are often less anxious and more satisfied with their care when they have the information they need to make the best decisions about their condition.

Anatomy

The human spine is made up of 24 spinal bones, called vertebrae. Vertebrae are stacked on top of one another to form the spinal column.  The cervical spine is formed by the first seven vertebrae. Doctors often refer to these vertebrae as C1 to C7. Just as the skull protects the brain, the bones of the spinal column protect the spinal cord.  The disc between each vertebra normally works like a shock absorber.  Ligaments are strong connective tissues that brace the vertebra holding them in alignment.There are two facet joints between each pair of vertebrae, one on each side of the spine and these very important joints allow freedom of movement as you bend and turn your neck.  Two spinal nerves exit the sides of each spinal segment, one on the left and one on the right. As the nerves leave the spinal cord, they pass through a small bony tunnel on each side of the vertebra, called a neural foramen.  With this basic understanding of the local anatomy let's look at how changes in the normal anatomy with injury and aging create pain and disability.

Symptoms

Symptoms from neck problems vary. They depend on your condition and which neck structures are affected. Some of the more common symptoms of neck problems are

  • neck pain
  • headaches
  • pain spreading into the upper back or down the arm
  • neck stiffness and reduced range of motion
  • muscle weakness in the shoulder, arm, or hand

woman getting a chiropractic adjustment for her neck

Causes

At Kleefeld Chiropractic we are often asked "why do I have neck pain?"

As there are many causes of neck pain Dr. Kleefeld will make every effort to ensure that your symptoms are not from a serious medical cause. Below is a brief overview of some of the most common causes of neck pain:

Muscle Strain

Most neck problems happen after years of wear and tear. At first, these small injuries are not painful.  Eventually they begin to cause neck pain.  This is especially true with poor posture, long hours keyboarding or frequent work overhead.  Over time knots in the muscles called "trigger points" form causing local pain, headache and reduced flexibility of the spinal joints.

Mechanical Neck Pain

Mechanical neck pain is caused by repeat injury with further wear and tear.  With time the mechanical ability of the neck begins to wear out.  The pain is typically felt in the neck, but it may spread from the neck into the upper back or to the outside of the shoulder.  Patients frequently complain of stiffness in the morning and a promotion of symptoms with prolonged sitting or any overhead work.

Degenerative Disc Disease

The normal aging process involves wear and tear in the disc, facet joints, and ligaments causing the spinal joints to become stiff and unstable.  As the degeneration continues, bone spurs develop around the facet joints and around the disc. These bone spurs can cause problems by pressing on the nerves of the spine where they pass through the neural foramina. This pressure around the irritated nerve roots can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in the neck and arms.

Diagnosis

How will Dr. Kleefeld find the cause of my problem?

The diagnosis of neck problems begins with a thorough history of your condition. You might be asked to fill out a questionnaire describing your neck problems. Dr. Kleefeld will ask you questions to find out when you first started having problems, what makes your symptoms worse or better, and how the symptoms affect your daily activity. Your answers will help guide the physical examination.

Dr. Kleefeld will then physically examine the muscles and joints of your neck. It is important that Dr. Kleefeld see how your neck is aligned, how it moves, and exactly where it hurts.

Dr. Kleefeld may do some simple tests to check the function of the nerves. These tests measure your arm and hand strength, check your reflexes, and help determine whether you have numbness in your arms, hands, or fingers.

The information from your medical history and physical examination will help Dr. Kleefeld decide what the best treatment options are and if x-rays or MRI scan is indicated.  Because of ionizing radiation, x-rays are only obtained if absolutely indicated.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the severity of injury.  Additional factors that can slow recovery include history of previous injury, underlying arthritis and if work tasks or activities of daily living promote pain.

Because of ionizing radiation, x-rays are not usually recommended unless trauma is significant and or symptoms persist.  Treatment typically includes the following:

  • Spinal manipulation of involved joint dysfunction to restore normal motion
  • Ultrasound to reduce inflammation and minimize adhesions
  • Interferential current to reduce muscle spasm, swelling and pain
  • Massage therapy if painful trigger points are evidenced on examination
  • Customized exercise program as recovery allows
  • Homecare measures such as ice and heat as indicated
  • Medication management
  • Activity modification initially as pain parameters allow
  • Normalization of activities of daily living as pain complaints settle.
  • Specialty consultation and x-rays if symptoms persist.

I hope that this answers any questions that you might have.  Should you require any additional information please do not hesitate to ask Dr. Kleefeld. 

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