Your neck is a made up of many joints held together by ligaments and moved by many muscles. In order to have full pain free movement all these joints and muscles must be work together to achieve this. A small, simple issue can lead to compensations from other structures, which can snowball into ongoing stiffness and pain. It is important to keep in mind that your neck must constantly support the weight of your head which can weigh up to 5kgs! – very heavy indeed!
The bones in our neck are called the cervical vertebrae, numbered C1 through to C7. Each vertebra is connected to the next by facet joints (joints on the side of the neck), and between the vertebrae are intervertebral discs —made mostly of cartilage that act as shock-absorbers. Running through the vertebra is the spinal cord which carries nerves to the rest of our body.< Symptoms of neck pain
Muscle pain – muscles can either spasm (strong sudden contraction) ,or they may have hard knots (trigger points) which are tender to touch. You may feel an ache on one side only or up the middle of the neck.
Stiffness – stiffness can be caused by either muscle tightness or joint tightness or a combination of both. You may be restricted in one or more movements.
Nerve pain – pain from the neck can radiate down the arms. You may feel a sensation of pins and needles , numbness, burning or weakness.
Headaches – headaches are very common in conjunction with neck problems. These usually arise from the top of the spinal cord and the brainstem being sensitised inside the higher cervical vertebrae
Other Common Symptoms – these can include dizziness, vertigo, and drop attacks. These can be more serious and should be followed up with your Doctor asap.
What causes neck pain?
These are some of the most common causes of neck pain:
Muscle strain – typically caused by poor posture in sitting (often at the computer), muscles become fatigued and stretched, leading to weakness.
Joint degeneration – this degenerative condition of the cervical spine is due to normal ageing and wear and tear on the cervical discs and the vertebrae. It is also known as cervical osteoarthritis or spondylosis. This is often associated with bone spurs or calcifications (osteophytes- see picture above) which can make the joints very stiff or close the space in which the nerves run. Arm pain, numbness or weakness in the arms can arise from this reason.
Degenerative disc disease – as we grow older, the soft centre of the shock-absorbing discs in our spines dries out. This causes the discs to become narrowed, and the distance between the vertebrae to decrease. This can result in stiffness in the neck.
Disc Bulge – if the tough outside layer of one of the cervical discs tears, the soft centre may bulge outwards — this is known as a disc bulge or herniated disc. These can put pressure on nerves exiting the spinal cord, causing pain, numbness and weakness in the arms.
Whiplash – this commonly follows a car accident. The person’s head is first thrown backwards and then when their body stops moving, forwards. This type of injury can strain your neck muscles and cause ligaments in the neck to stretch or tear.
Treatment of the cervical spine is based on accurate assessment of the presenting problem. We endeavour to get to the source of your symptoms to restore normal function. Techniques we use include joint mobilisation, stretching, soft tissue releases and strengthening. The deep neck stabiliser muscles are a crucial part of ensuring normal neck movement. They are muscles deep in the neck and act as stabilizers. They help minimise shearing forces when you move your neck. Research has shown that these muscles shut down and waste away with neck pain.
Why don’t you have a try of activating these muscles now?
Lie on your back with a towel under your head and a small hand towel under your neck.
Gently and slowly nod the head as if saying “yes” so that there is slight pressure of the back of your neck on the small hand towel.
It is important not to lift your head off the towel. Try also to try to not use the big muscles in the front of your neck (feel these and try to keep these muscles quiet).
Hold on for 5 seconds; perform 6 times, twice per day.
TIP – These exercises are quiet hard to isolate the muscles and perform these well. Our Physiotherapists are trained to help you perform these well. They use a pressure biofeedback system to help them assess these muscles strength and to help you turn them on to the correct strength. One of our patients is demonstrating this in these pictures below.
Please contact our team for an appointment on 6654 0244 or firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about managing and overcoming neck pain.
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