Spotlight on Neck Pain

Friday, May 18, 2018
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What’s causing your pain in the neck?

Neck pain is miserable and can often stop you in your tracks. In this blog article, we’ll talk about the many different things that can be causing your neck pain, and if you still have questions, get in contact!

Tight muscles

Neck pain can be caused by tight muscles – myalgia. There are many muscles that hold your neck up and allow you to turn and move. If these get tight, they start to become a source of pain themselves. This can give you aching, dull, burning pain, and make you feel like you have to lie down. Some people also fin with this type of neck pain, that they instinctively massage the muscles themselves. If these muscles continue to get used (abused??) they can become trigger points (angry muscle ‘knots’ which refer pain to other areas) or they can create tension headaches. Literally, the muscles become too sore, tight and fatigued, then they cannot hold up your head weight. People (teenagers!) who are on their devices or phones a lot will suffer from this type of pain – or what’s now called ‘text neck’. I will write a completely different blog on this as it’s a real problem in our modern world. Tight muscles can be easily relieved by massage and stretching. If not, it might have already changed into a deeper problem (with the joints), so it’s best to get an osteopath to have a look at you to be sure.

Stiff, enflamed or locked joints

When muscles are tight for a long time, they prevent the joints underneath from moving well. When the joints cannot move through their full range of motion, and the fluid encasing the joints becomes sticky, further hindering movement. The joints stay healthy (mainly the cartilage) by adsorbing nutrients from this fluid, so if their surfaces aren’t getting swept with fluid by movement, the cartilage starts to break down. This is when the problem can cause arthritis – but this happens over a long period of time.

Sometimes all you need, is for the tight muscles on the top to be massages and stretches, and then for the joints underneath to be persuaded to move again with what we call articulation techniques. Joints that are stiff will prevent you from doing things like checking your blind spot in the car, and you’ll feel tight and stiff when you get out of bed in the morning. Stiff joints themselves don’t usually cause pain, unless they are enflamed.

Enflamed joints can occur if you have whacked your head, or moved strangely, slept strangely, or strained them by lifting something awkward or heavy. We all do things like this every day, and don’t even notice. You usually notice when more than two or the 14 neck joints start to get stiff, as this affects your overall neck movement.

ThreeSixty osteopaths often find people come in with some joints that are newly stiff or enflamed and some that are chronically enflamed. In the case of the latter, the joints have been enflamed for a long time, but has been pain-free and therefore gone unnoticed. This is normal. We can’t notice every single thing that is not working well in the body. It’s impossible for the brain to process this volume of information.

You’ll know if you’ve had a locked joint or two because they’re really painful and create a nasty pinching pain. You are often very blocked with your movement, and instead of using your neck to turn, you’ll turn your whole body.

This can happen if the outer capsule of you joint gets caught when you move too quickly, or awkwardly (like if you get your coat caught in the car door). It can also happen in car accidents, or if you hit your head with enough force to cause a large inflammation in one or more of the joints. This is very painful, and unlikely to resolve on its own. If you have this for too long your muscles may also go into spasm. In this case, you’ll probably need someone experienced to settle the inflammation down, and get the joint moving again. At ThreeSixty osteopathy, we help people with this kind of pain every day.

Disc bulge or tear

These are bad news, and often happen over a long period of time. Imagine a jam doughnut. The jam can slowly start to work its way through the dough, until it oozes out the other side. This can happen over a long period of time. It is unlikely to occur without warning, unless you have been in a serious accident, in which case the impact of the injury causes he jam to squish out immediately.

Disc pain which is building up is low, and rumbly, and can come and go intermittently for no specific reason. In the neck, it is often accompanied by aching, gnawing pain in the upper arm – so frustrating that you feel like you want to chop the arm off.

Disc bulges can be managed with osteopathy, but generally take six months or longer to resolve. The specialists rarely do surgery for these, unless it is really very bad, in which case they might fuse two joints together and take out the damaged part of the disc. If a disc bulge is suspected to be the cause of your pain, you’ll most likely be given painkillers and asked to wait and see if the disc bulge settles down.

Pinched nerves

Pinched nerves can occur if there is an injury to the neck joint, or a disc bulge. If there is inflammation pushing on the nerve where it exits the spinal column, you may get aching, pinching or numberless down one of your arms, or even into your fingers. Mostly, the feeling of numbness or tingling goes with some treatment of the neck.

It is important for your therapists to do some tests to make sure it is coming from your neck. Nerves wind down through the arm within muscles, and ligamentous tunnels, so they can get trapped elsewhere too, not just as they exit the neck. ThreeSixty osteopaths know how to test for this as it is a very common complaint from our patients.

The pain might be described as dull, aching, sharp like lightning bolts down the arm with certain movements and will be relieved by lying down usually with your arm above your head. This puts the least stretch on the nerve and slackens it.

Whatever the cause for your pain, you don’t need to suffer. If it has been there for longer than one week, it is probably not going to resolve on its own and will need some treatment. Don’t let things accumulate. You’ll end up compensating and then getting more than one problem in this list.

Get it sorted promptly, or at least pop in for a chat with us. We don’t need a referral from the Doctor and can send you for X-rays or to a local specialist if we think you need to see them.



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