Pains in the neck

Being in the heart of North Sydney CBD it is no surprise that neck pain is one of if not the most common complaints that patients will present to our practice for. And just like low back pain, many of you may have experienced or are currently experiencing a form of neck pain. I guess you could say it goes hand-in-hand with the office work that we all spend so much time doing.

As much as we love to see you at our practice, we would not be doing our job if we did not inform you that most cases of neck pain are preventable. In some cases, when the joints of the neck (cervical spine) have undergone years of degeneration, then neck pain is inevitable. In these cases, learning to manage the pain and to prevent the further degeneration of the joints is vital.

However in a healthy spine, where the wear and tear is minimal, there is plenty of time to preserve the health of your joints and save to yourself (pardon the pun) a pain in the neck. Understanding more about this condition will help you prevent and take control of this problem that plagues most desk bound workers.

First Things First

Believe it or not, neck pain very rarely comes on suddenly. You may experience sharp excruciating pain in the neck upon first waking in the morning, on certain movements or in certain positions. All of these indicate that the pain is biomechanical in nature. And this means that there were more than likely enough warning signs before your pain took hold of you. When I say warning signs, you will not receive a reminder on your phone or your calendar indicating the exact moment of impact, but you should have felt some sort of tightness, stiffness, discomfort, headache, tension, (all of the above) etc. meaning that there has been significant stress on the tissues of the neck (muscles, ligaments and/or nerves) to elicit a response from the tissues. In other words, your body does not like and is complaining to you about the increase in workload it is doing. And rather than complaining to your manager, your body complains to your brain which interprets the stress on your tissues as the tightness/stiffness/discomfort etc. These are the first warning signs.

For most of us these warning signs are a clear indication that something is not quite right, and possibly time to do take action. But for others, when the warning signs are ignored then troubled times are imminent. Beyond the initial stiffness/tightness/discomfort, the tissues become weak and fatigued. If the stress and insult to the tissues continue, damage and injury to the tissues occur resulting in inflammation of the affected tissues and pain. This is the second warning sign.

At this stage, your pain has really caught your attention and you really only have a few options from here. You can

  1. Seek professional help (which most people do at this stage)
  2. Medicate with anti-inflammatory medications or painkillers.
  3. Ignore the pain (She’ll be right!)

Lets just consider the last 2 options. Pain comes along; you take an anti-inflammatory or analgesic painkiller or a combination of the two. Pain/inflammation goes away, you feel less or little pain, and everything seems to be back to normal. Or is it? You may feel good with less pain, however if you think about the tissues, nothing has really changed. The tissues are still fatigued and weak. If you were to return to the same activities that originally caused the stress and insult to the tissues, when your medication wears off, you would more than likely be back to where you started, pain.

The other option, ignore the pain, continue with the repetitive stress and insult to the tissues, resulting in more pain. If this were to continue for long enough, the structural elements of the spine will begin to be affected. When the muscles/ligaments and nerves to an extent have stress placed on them, once that stress has been removed, the tissues generally heal and recover quickly. However, when the structural elements (disc and bones) are affected the degenerative changes that can occur are more or less permanent.

Now that you understand how the degeneration process occurs, what can you do to prevent and limit these changes? The answer is in the following equation. Tr=Ti

Tr=Rest and recovery of your tissues

Ti= Insult or injury to your tissues.

So when the recovery of the tissues (Tr) are close to or equal to the amount of insult on your tissues (Ti) from the stresses of your daily activities, you should be feeling good with little or no pain. However, when Tr is less than Ti or when Ti is greater than Tr (there is a difference!) you are more likely to experience the warning signs that we are hoping to avoid. Examples of these two scenarios are as follows. When Tr is less than Ti, our tissue recovery is impeded for some reason, possibly lack of rest, sleep, exercise, poor nutrition just to name a few. When Ti is greater than Tr, the insult to the tissue has increased. Increased work hours, increased workloads, poor posture and repetitive movements may cause this.

So what can you do to effect this equation? Simple. Increase Tr and/or decrease Ti.  Follow the table below for ways to do this.

  • Rest. Give yourself rest breaks at work. Stretch and get movement into your joints.
  • Exercise. Your tissues prefer to be worked this way, rather than being held static all day.
  • Sleep. Get a good nights sleep as this is time unload the stress on your tissues.
  • Eat and Drink Well. You are what you eat.
  • See a Chiropractor! We are trained to identify the tissues that undergo repetitive insult, and removing that tension on your tissues.
  • De-stress yourself. Your body feels what your mind thinks. If you feel stressed/tired/unwell/anxious, so will your body.