Neck pain is a common complaint seen by osteopaths and is commonly associated with tension and sedentary lifestyles or seated work environments, which can cause bad posture (e.g. working with computers for prolonged periods). Lifestyles are becoming more sedentary and people are often forced to commit to long commutes to work; electronic devices have fast become part of the modern life; thus, neck pain is notably on the increase. And of course, neck pain is often a consequence of a ‘whiplash’ type of injury, sustained by a road traffic accident. Neck pain is a musculoskeletal disorder which can manifest itself in a number of ways. More often than not, neck pain is localised to the neck region itself, but it can be more widespread and travel into the shoulder and arms.
There are many factors that influence neck pain, these include: rotating the head to look behind you while driving, cycling or motorbiking, seated or standing posture, desk set up, use of laptops and tablets, working posture or repeated movements, head movements during running, walking, dancing, and many other sports.
Neck pain can be effectively treated at Wallington Osteopaths.
Common causes of neck pain include muscle tightness, muscle fatigue, or gradual joint stiffness. However acute or sudden onset of neck pain is also common. Many people hold their tension in their necks; for example, shoulders will be shrugged up slightly or held tight whilst at work or driving. This results in over activation of the muscles leading to tightness and fatigue, which can slowly build up over time. Neck pain is also closely related with problems in the shoulders and upper back.
There are many causes of a stiff neck including the following…
• Muscular tension - this may be a primary problem with local muscles in the neck, such as a torn or strained muscle.
• Muscular spasm - often secondary to an underlying fault (e.g. joint inflammation), the brain causes local muscles in the area of injury to tighten up in order to “splint” the damaged region, allowing it time to recover.
• Ligament strain - usually traumatic in origin, sometimes ligaments get stretched which causes pain. An example of this might be a “whiplash” injury.
• Joint inflammation - we've all done it- woken up with a stiff neck following a poor posture overnight, or sitting at a computer for too long. If this causes the facet joints in the spine to sit too closely together, the surfaces may rub and become inflamed, resulting in pain and stiffness and usually spasm, causing neck muscle pain.
• Stress - tension itself can result in holding our postures in a “tight” manner, resulting in neck pain. Simple breathing or relaxation techniques can easily help in these cases.
• Wear and tear in joints - medically called “cervical spondylosis” occurs when joints become arthritic, resulting is some pain and stiffness. Cervical spondylosis occurs naturally with age. It does not always cause symptoms, although in some people the bone changes can cause neck stiffness.
• Trapped nerve - the nerves that exit the spinal cord in the neck may become compressed (e.g. by a bulging disc). This can cause muscle spasm, but often the pain is experienced in the arm or hand and may be accompanied by sensory changes (e.g. numbness or tingling) or some weakness. Neck pain caused by nerve entrapment is called cervical radiculopathy. It may occur after you have held your neck in an awkward position, after an unusual movement, or following the use of vibrating power tools.
• Poor posture - this can cause pressure onto certain joints and muscles resulting in them working inefficiently and lead to fatigue and pain.
• Torticollis (a twisted neck that feels painful and difficult to move) and often occurs spontaneously and for no apparent reason.
Symptoms of neck pain can include: stiffness, sharp or pinching sensation in the neck, headaches, pain looking over the shoulder, pain looking towards the floor or the ceiling, pain travelling into the arms or hands, pins and needles or numbness in the arms or hand. This usually indicates there is nerve compression from the neck or the muscles of the neck and shoulder. Symptoms such as this should really be properly assessed to identify the root of the problem.
It is common for people to suffer with headache in association with their neck pain. Sometimes this is due to compression of a nerve which supplies the back of the eye socket (orbit) and these people complain of a “forehead” headache.
It is rare that neck pain has a more serious cause, however if we feel it is appropriate then recommendation for onward referral will be made. It is important to us that our patients are managed appropriately to get the best possible outcome.
Treatment of Neck Pain. Hands on treatment will help to release tension in the muscles and joints of the neck, shoulders, and upper back. This may involve deep massage techniques, soft tissue work, joint mobilisation and manipulation techniques to improve the movement and function of the spine.
Exercises to improve mobility in the neck and upper back will often be given, as well as specifically targeting muscle weakness and imbalances. Postural advice related to your daily activities will usually be given, helping you to understand and manage the neck pain yourself and prevent recurrence.