Your neck is a complex interlocking structure consisting of bones, joints, nerves, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Its main job is to hold up the weight of your head which, at around 5 kilograms, is no mean task. Add to this the requirement that the head must be able to move from side to side and up and down (and do these simultaneously), plus the fact that the neck has to form a conduit for the spinal cord, carry blood vessels to and from the head, and contain passageways for air and food, and you have quite a complex feat of engineering. No wonder then that our necks cause us pain and discomfort, not only on occasion, but for some people in an ongoing fashion.The main physical structures in the neck are the seven interlocking vertebrae. They are called the cervical vertebrae, numbered C1 through to C7. C1, also known as the atlas, is the closest one to your head, followed by C2, which is also known as the axis. Each vertebra is connected to the next by facet joints, and between the vertebrae are intervertebral discs — rubbery cushions made mostly of cartilage that act as shock-absorbers.When should I seek immediate medical treatment for neck pain?Severe neck pain that occurs after a neck injury can be a serious problem, and you should see your doctor immediately. Also, if you have problems with neck pain and experience symptoms such as loss of bladder or bowel control, shooting pains, numbness, tingling, or weakness in the arms or legs, especially if these symptoms come on suddenly or get worse quickly, you should see your doctor straight away.Neck pain and stiffness that’s associated with headache and fever can be a sign of meningitis (an infection of the membranes surrounding your brain and spinal cord). Meningitis is a serious disease, and you should seek immediate medical treatment if you or your child are experiencing these symptoms.Symptoms of neck painSymptoms of neck pain and the sensations you feel can help your doctor to diagnose the cause. Here are some symptoms.Muscle spasmA spasm is a sudden, powerful, involuntary contraction of muscles. The muscles feel painful, stiff and knotted. If you have neck muscle spasms, you may not be able to move your neck — sometimes people call it a crick in the neck. Your doctor or physiotherapist may call it acute torticollis or wry neck.Muscle acheThe neck muscles are sore and may have hard knots (trigger points) that are tender to touch. Pain is often felt up the middle of the back of the neck, or it may ache on one side only.StiffnessThe neck muscles are tight and if you spend too long in one position they feel even tighter. Neck stiffness can make it difficult or painful to move your neck.Nerve painPain from the neck can radiate down the arms, and sometimes, the legs. You may feel a sensation of pins and needles or tingling in your arms, which can be accompanied by numbness, burning or weakness. This pain is typically worse at night.HeadachesHeadaches are common in conjunction with neck problems. They are usually a dull aching type of headache, rather than sharp pain. While the headaches are often felt at the back of the head, the pain may also radiate to the sides, and even the front of the head.Reduced range of motionIf you can’t turn your head to the side to the same degree towards each shoulder, or you feel limited in how far forward you can lower your head to your chest, or how far you can tilt your head back, you may have reduced range of motion. Your doctor will be able to test this.Common causes of neck painWhiplashThis commonly follows a car accident in which the person’s car is hit from behind while it is stationary or slowing down. The person’s head is first thrown backwards and then when their body stops moving, the head is thrust forward. This type of injury can strain your neck muscles and cause ligaments in the neck to stretch or tear.The pain from whiplash, which is usually worse with movement, does not always start immediately — it may take several days to come on. Neck pain and stiffness may be accompanied by muscle spasm, dizziness, headaches, nerve pain and shoulder pain.Muscle strainOngoing overuse of your neck muscles (which can be caused by a poor neck position during everyday activities, particularly computer work) can trigger neck muscle strain, causing chronic neck pain and stiffness. The pain is often worse with movement and may be associated with headaches, muscle spasms and restriction of neck movements.Degenerative disc diseaseAs we grow older, the soft gelatinous 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.Herniated discIf the tough outside layer of one of the cervical discs tears, the soft gelatinous centre may bulge outwards — this is known as a herniated disc. Herniated discs can put pressure on nerve roots as they leave the spinal cord, causing pain in the neck as well as pain, numbness and weakness in the arms.Cervical spondylosisThis 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, and is more common among older people.The development of bone spurs often accompanies this degeneration of the spine. Bone spurs, also known as osteophytes, are small outgrowths of bone tissue that are formed when the cartilage covering bone is worn away and bone starts to rub on adjacent bone. The bone spur is the body’s attempt to protect the bone surface. Unfortunately, the bone spur can sometimes pinch or press upon the nerve roots as they leave the spinal canal.Symptoms associated with cervical spondylosis include neck pain and stiffness that often improves with rest. The pain may radiate to the shoulders or between the shoulder blades. If there is nerve root compression, there may be numbness, pain or weakness in the arms.Cervical spinal canal stenosisDegenerative changes in the vertebrae can lead to narrowing of the canal in which your spinal cord lies — this is known as cervical spinal canal stenosis. As the canal becomes narrower, it can put pressure on the spinal cord. The associated neck pain is usually worse with activity, and may radiate to the arms or legs. Arm or leg weakness can also occur. Sometimes people with cervical spinal canal stenosis have no symptoms. Occasionally, it may give rise to Lhermitte's sign — an electric shock-like feeling down the body when the neck is bent forward.Tests and diagnosisYour doctor may be able to determine the cause of your neck pain from your history and physical examination, but sometimes tests such as X-rays, MRI scans and CT scans are required to find the exact cause of your symptoms. These scans can assess the spine and be used to show disc problems, spinal cord problems or compression of your nerve roots.Sometimes doctors will order electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction studies — tests that evaluate the electrical activity in nerves and muscles to help determine if there is any nerve damage related to your neck problems.It can be difficult to identify the precise source of neck pain even after investigations. Generally, X-ray abnormalities do not correlate well with pain. Some people have severe spondylosis on X-rays, but have no pain. The key thing that your doctor should be able to tell is if the pain is involving pressure on the nerve roots or spinal cord. Last Reviewed: 18 December 2012
Generally, you can expect to fill out paperwork or a questionnaire explaining your health history, reason for your visit, surgical and family history, any pain you are feeling or any previous injuries you may have. At my appointment, there was a case manager that came in to explain who I would be meeting with and how the appointment would go. This made me much more comfortable about the whole process—I actually felt at ease and excited to keep working through the next steps! Here is an example of the type of forms you will be asked to fill out.
How do you stretch the latissimus dorsi? The latissimus dorsi is a large muscle that stretches from the middle to lower back. While overuse can lead to pain, some movement may provide relief. We describe exercises that stretch and alleviate pain in this muscle, also known as the lats. Here, learn to identify, relieve, and prevent pain in the latissimus dorsi. Read now
There are several schools of chiropractic adjustive techniques, although most chiropractors mix techniques from several schools. The following adjustive procedures were received by more than 10% of patients of licensed U.S. chiropractors in a 2003 survey: Diversified technique (full-spine manipulation, employing various techniques), extremity adjusting, Activator technique (which uses a spring-loaded tool to deliver precise adjustments to the spine), Thompson Technique (which relies on a drop table and detailed procedural protocols), Gonstead (which emphasizes evaluating the spine along with specific adjustment that avoids rotational vectors), Cox/flexion-distraction (a gentle, low-force adjusting procedure which mixes chiropractic with osteopathic principles and utilizes specialized adjusting tables with movable parts), adjustive instrument, Sacro-Occipital Technique (which models the spine as a torsion bar), Nimmo Receptor-Tonus Technique, applied kinesiology (which emphasises "muscle testing" as a diagnostic tool), and cranial. Chiropractic biophysics technique uses inverse functions of rotations during spinal manipulation. Koren Specific Technique (KST) may use their hands, or they may use an electric device known as an "ArthroStim" for assessment and spinal manipulations. Insurers in the US and UK that cover other chiropractic techniques exclude KST from coverage because they consider it to be "experimental and investigational". Medicine-assisted manipulation, such as manipulation under anesthesia, involves sedation or local anesthetic and is done by a team that includes an anesthesiologist; a 2008 systematic review did not find enough evidence to make recommendations about its use for chronic low back pain.
The most worrisome causes of neck pain rarely cause severe pain, and common problems like slipped discs are usually much less serious than people fear. Sharp and stabbing pains are usually false alarms. Only about 1% of neck pain is ominous, and even then it’s often still treatable. Most of the 1% are due to cancer, autoimmune disease, or spinal cord damage.
One of the most common and well known therapeutic procedures performed by doctors of chiropractic is spinal manipulation (sometimes referred to as a "chiropractic adjustment"). The purpose of spinal manipulation is to restore joint mobility by manually applying a controlled force into joints that have become hypomobile – or restricted in their movement – as a result of a tissue injury. Tissue injury can be caused by a single traumatic event, such as improper lifting of a heavy object, or through repetitive stresses, such as sitting in an awkward position with poor spinal posture for an extended period of time. In either case, injured tissues undergo physical and chemical changes that can cause inflammation, pain, and diminished function for an individual. Manipulation, or adjustment of the affected joint and tissues, restores mobility, thereby alleviating pain and muscle tightness, allowing tissues to heal.
The AANS does not endorse any treatments, procedures, products or physicians referenced in these patient fact sheets. This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific neurosurgical advice or assistance should consult his or her neurosurgeon, or locate one in your area through the AANS’ Find a Board-certified Neurosurgeon online tool.
The next step in the process was an X-ray. Having an X-ray done of your spine can help the chiropractor determine your treatment plan and can aid in the adjustment. That said, not all chiropractors will recommend an X-ray at your appointment. It turns out some chiropractors say that X-rays should be part of routine chiropractic care, while others argue X-rays aren't necessary for every patient. When researching potential chiropractors, feel free to ask if they recommend X-rays for all patients and how the X-rays can benefit your treatment plan.