Neck Pain & Tension, Whiplash Injuries & Text Neck
Millions of people experience neck pain and/or related arm pain at some point in their life.
Your neck is an amazing part of your body. The vertebrae of your neck and back protects your spinal cord, which sends messages between your brain and the rest of your body. Knowing what to do when you have neck and shoulder pain is important. Sitting at a computer, a sedentary lifestyle, as well as injuries, arthritic changes and aging can all lead to problems.
The vast majority of episodes of neck pain will get better with time and can be addressed with non-surgical treatments. However, there are a few symptoms that are possible indications of a serious medical condition and patients with these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.
Seek Medical Attention Immediately If You Experience:
Progressive neurological deficit (weakness in the arms or loss of feeling and coordination in the arms or legs) could indicate nerve damage.
If sustained or increasing pain is accompanied by lack of appetite, unplanned weight loss, nausea and vomiting, or fever/chills/shakes, there could be a spinal tumor or infection (like meningitis).
About your neck
Incredibly, the cervical spine supports the full weight of your head, which is on average about 12 pounds. Your neck is also called the cervical spine. It begins at the base of the skull and contains seven small vertebrae. While the cervical spine can move your head in nearly every direction, this flexibility makes the neck very susceptible to pain and injury.
The neck’s susceptibility to injury is due in part to biomechanics. Activities and events that affect cervical biomechanics include extended sitting, repetitive movement including computer work and reading in bed, accidents, falls and blows to the body or head, aging, and everyday wear and tear. Neck pain can have a variety of causes.
Here are some of the most common causes of neck pain:
Daily Life: Poor posture, obesity, and weak abdominal muscles often disrupt spinal balance, causing the neck to bend forward to compensate. Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract, resulting in pain and stiffness. Postural stress can contribute to chronic neck pain with symptoms extending into the upper back and the arms.
Texting, Reading in Bed, Typing/Computer Work, Phone Cradling: Many daily activities can lead to a forward head position that causes muscles to strain, joints to fixate (subluxate), and additional weigh putting pressure on the neck from these repetitive positions. Regardless of your age, most of us need to have our neck checked to see if we still have the proper position of the neck bones, or if they have moved due to these daily minute traumas.
Injury and Accidents: A sudden forced movement of the head or neck in any direction and the resulting “rebound” in the opposite direction is known as whiplash. The sudden “whipping” motion injures the surrounding and supporting tissues of the neck and head. Muscles react by tightening and contracting, creating muscle fatigue, which can result in pain and stiffness. Severe whiplash can also be associated with injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, muscles, and nerve roots. Car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash.
Growing Older: Degenerative disorders such as osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, and degenerative disc disease directly affect the spine.
Osteoarthritis, a common joint disorder, causes progressive deterioration of cartilage. The body reacts by forming bone spurs that affect joint motion.
Spinal stenosis causes the small nerve passageways in the vertebrae to narrow, compressing and trapping nerve roots. Stenosis may cause neck, shoulder, and arm pain, as well as numbness, when these nerves are unable to function normally.
Degenerative disc disease can cause reduction in the elasticity and height of intervertebral discs. Over time, a disc may bulge or herniate, causing tingling, numbness, and pain that runs into the arm.
An injury to the neck caused by a sudden movement of the head, backward, forward, or sideways, is referred to as whiplash. Symptoms of a whiplash can take weeks or months to manifest.Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head, either backwards, forward, or sideways, that results in the damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back.
Whether from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, whiplash or other neck injuries warrant a thorough chiropractic check-up as soon as possible after the injury. The biggest danger with whiplash injuries is that the symptoms can take years to develop fully. Too often people don’t seek treatment until more serious complications develop. Even after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, almost half report they still suffer with symptoms two years later.
In the past where no bones were broken, a whiplash injury was hard to document. Soft tissue injury didn’t show up on normal X-rays and insurance companies would deny coverage. New imaging devices (CAT Scans, Magnetic Imaging, and Ultra Sound) now show soft tissue injury and insurance companies now cover most whiplash injuries. When no bones are broken and the head doesn’t strike the windshield, typical symptoms are as follows:
Neck pain: typically starts two hours up to two days after the accident. This is the most common symptom following a whiplash injury and is often the result of tightened muscles that react to either muscle tears or excessive movement of joints from ligament damage. The muscles tighten in an effort to splint and support the head, limiting the excessive movement.
Headache: The pain may be on one side or both, on again off again or constant, in one spot or more general. These headaches, like the neck pain, are often the result of tightened, tensed muscles trying to keep the head stable and, like tension headaches they are often felt behind the eyes.
Shoulder pain: often described as pain radiating down the back of the neck into the shoulder blade area, may also be the result of tensed muscles.
Depending on the severity of the whiplash injury, one might also experience:
Pain radiating down an arm or both arms or into the hands or fingers
Sharp pain including burning, tingling or numbness
Dizziness, vertigo, vision problems, ringing in the ears
Back pain, or concussion, for example
When the cervical spine (neck) is subject to whiplash, there is usually a combination of factors that contribute to whiplash pain in the neck and back, and ultimately need to be addressed individually, depending on the injuries associated including joint dysfunction, muscle dysfunction, limited movement / range of Motion, disc derangement and/or nerve impairment.
Chiropractic Care for Neck Pain & Whiplash
Chiropractors are experts in neck problems. During your visit, your doctor of chiropractic will perform exams to locate the source of your pain and will ask you questions about your current symptoms and remedies you may have already tried. For example:
When did the pain start?
What have you done for your neck pain?
Does the pain radiate or travel to other parts of your body?
Does anything reduce the pain or make it worse?
Your chiropractor will also do physical and neurological exams. In the physical exam, your doctor will observe your posture, range of motion, and physical condition, noting movement that causes pain. Your doctor will feel your spine, note its curvature and alignment, and feel for muscle spasm. A check of your shoulder area is also in order. During the neurological exam, your doctor may test your reflexes, muscle strength, other nerve changes, and pain spread. In some instances, your chiropractor might order tests to help diagnose your condition. An x-ray can show narrowed disc space, fractures, bone spurs, or arthritis.
What to do when you have neck or shoulder pain? Get checked by a chiropractor first. Chiropractors are specialists in manual adjustment of the vertebrae of the spine and other joints of the body. Adjustment helps relieve pain and restore normal functioning to the joints and supporting muscles and ligaments – so you can enjoy your everyday activities again as quickly as possible.
Chiropractic is known for getting the best results for neck and back pain. It should be your first choice for back pain, and a chiropractor could be a helpful second opinion before back surgery is done. 4 Million Canadians will visit their chiropractor this year.
Chiropractors are specialists in manual adjustment of the vertebrae of the spine and other joints of the body. Adjustment helps relieve pain and restore normal functioning to the joints and supporting muscles and ligaments – so you can enjoy your everyday activities again as quickly as possible.
Need more information?
Many symptoms can be helped with preventative care like acupuncture, chiropractic, massage, physio and laser therapy. We strongly recommend anyone experiencing the symptoms discussed on this page, see one of our health professionals soon. We are happy to provide a FREE 15-minute CONSULTATION prior to any examination or treatment.