Why is my neck hurting?
Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, subluxations, stress, and in some instances, disc problems. Forward head posture is very common for people who are stooped over their computers all day long. If not taken care of with chiropractic care, subluxations can worsen over time.
It’s the second most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. In fact, it is estimated that lower back pain affects more than half of the adult population each year and more than 10% of all people experience frequent bouts of lower back pain.
Most people do not realize how much they move their neck during the day until they are unable to do so. The degree of flexibility of the neck, coupled with the fact that it has the least amount of muscular stabilization and it has to support and move your 14 -16-pound head, means that the neck is highly susceptible to injury. Picture your head as a bowling ball held on top of a stick (your neck) by small, thin, elastic bands. It doesn’t take much force to disrupt that delicate balance.
The spinal cord runs through a space in the vertebrae to send nerve impulses to every part of the body. Between each pair of cervical vertebrae, the spinal cord sends off large bundles of nerves that run down the arms and to some degree, the upper back. This means that if your arm is hurting, it may actually be a problem in the neck. Symptoms in the arms can include numbness, tingling, cold, aching, and the sensation of pins and needles.
These symptoms can be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome resulting from repetitive motion tasks over extended periods of time, even keyboarding. Problems in the neck can also contribute to headaches, muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper back, ringing in the ears, otitis media (inflammation in the middle ear, often mistaken for an ear infection in children), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), restricted range of motion and chronic tightness in the neck and upper back.
One of the most common causes of neck pain, and sometimes headaches, is poor posture. Even innocent activities like reading in bed can ultimately lead to pain, headaches, and more serious problems. The basic rule is: keep your neck in a neutral position whenever possible. Don’t bend or hunch your neck forward for long periods. Also, try not to sit in one position for a long time. If you must sit for an extended period, make sure your posture is good. Keep your head in a neutral position, make sure your back is supported, keep your knees slightly lower than your hips, and rest your arms if possible.
Signs of subluxation include looking in the mirror and seeing your head tilted or one shoulder higher than the other. Often women will notice that their sleeve length is different or that a necklace is hanging off center. If someone looks at you from the side they may notice that your head sits forward from your shoulders. This is known as FHPD forward head posture and is very common for people who are stooped over their computers all day long. Subluxations are a debt to the body. If they are not taken care of soon after they occur, then they can get much worse over time due to the accumulation of compounding interest.
When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles, in particular, the muscles in their back. Called muscle guarding, this is a survival response designed to guard against injury. In today’s world where we are not exposed to physical danger most of the time, muscle guarding still occurs whenever we become emotionally stressed. Areas most affected are the muscles of the neck, upper back and low back. For most of us, the particular muscle affected by stress is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points. The two most effective ways you can reduce the physical effects of stress on your own are to increase your activity level with exercise and by deep breathing exercises. When you decrease the physical effects of stress, you can substantially reduce the amount of tightness and pain in your upper back and neck.
The discs in your cervical spine can herniate or bulge and put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. Although cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as lumbar discs do, they occasionally can herniate, especially when the discs sustain damage from a whiplash injury.