by Dr. Brent Wells, DC
You might not consider your neck to be a very vital part of your body until it starts to cause you pain. The reality is, your neck has one of the biggest roles. It is what holds and balances your head, which for some individuals can weigh up to 12 pounds! Can you imagine having to walk around with that kind of load all day? After a while, it can cause irritation, discomfort, or even chronic pain that just doesn’t seem to go away.
Research suggests that up to 80% of people experience a pain or stiffness in their neck at some point in their lives. Out of those individuals, 20%-50% have complaints at least once a year. Why are those numbers so high? Find out what causes neck pain, the symptoms to watch for, your treatment options to get relief, and a few exercises to try at home that will keep your pain levels down or eliminate them completely.
Common Neck Pain Causes
There are a plethora of reasons why you may start to feel pain in the neck from sleeping incorrectly to having poor posture. Even though your neck is a solid body part, it is responsible for creating a balance between your joints, bones, muscles, and ligaments that keep your head up. When any of the following happen, you could be dealing with some serious complications:
- Car accidents
- Injury during physical activity
- Grinding your teeth
- Sleeping poorly
- Bad posture
- Repetition in movements
- Pinched nerves
- Carrying heavy loads
- Everyday wear and tear
Neck pain can be annoying, bothersome, or downright unbearable, depending on the severity of it. For some, it’s a throbbing that will go away after just a few days seemingly on its own. For others, some symptoms should be taken a little more seriously as it could be an indicator of something medically happening that needs attention right away.
The Neck Pain Symptoms to Watch For
Out of all the people that deal with neck pain issues, only about 1% of those are something that has to be seriously worried about. The rest are treatable conditions that will clear up after given the proper attention. Stabbing or sharp pains might put you in a bit of a panic, but for the most part, they are harmless. In that small percentage of critical neck pain conditions, most of those are caused by spinal cord damages, autoimmune disease, or cancer.
There are three key factors that you should confirm are present before you have your issue checked out by a medical professional:
- It’s incredibly severe pain that is getting worse instead of better
- The pain has been present for six weeks or longer
- Any of the following:
- Over age 55 or under age 20
- Light tapping is painful
- Nausea or fever is present
- Loss of weight
- Stiffness that is severe
- Distinctive pain
- Tingling, weakness, numbness anywhere else
- A terrible headache
- Light tapping is painful
Even in the event you do fit into all three of these categories in one way or another, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something serious going on. It just is highly recommended that you should seek a professional opinion as soon as possible. If it is something critical, the sooner you catch it and begin treatment, the more likely you are to eliminate the problem.
What Are Your Neck Pain Treatment Options?
In the past, one common way people would deal with their neck pain would be with a visit to their family medical doctor. In most cases, those physicians would prescribe potentially harmful prescription medications that came with a slew of dangerous side effects. Many people have started seeking out non-invasive, non-conventional treatment options because those drugs have been proven to be highly addictive and only cover up the problem. Even the safer over-the-counter medications only provide temporary relief.
Getting to the root of the problem is the only way to get pain relief that lasts any length of time successfully. Up to 35 million people in America have started turning to chiropractic treatments for a variety of ailments including neck pain. These professionals work at treating the human body as a whole, and the neck and spine are the central functioning center that needs the most attention. When the spinal column and neck are in alignment, the rest of the body should work at its optimum level.
A qualified and educated chiropractic doctor has the knowledge and skill required to provide patients with the necessary manipulations needed to treat the problem in the cervical spine. In total, there are seven separate small vertebrae that start at the base of the skull. Even though the structure allows for your head to move in just about every direction, the flexibility there leaves plenty of room for injury and pain to arise.
Other methods for treating neck pain include:
For most people, the lowest amount of treatment necessary to get rid of their ailments is what’s sought after first. That’s why chiropractors are a great avenue to start with. In most offices, they can provide you with the cervical spine manipulation along with other options that can be used in combination with that for the quickest way to relief. They may offer massage therapy or acupuncture for instance. Additionally, they will give you information on how to care for your problem when you get home including effective neck pain exercises.
Neck Pain Exercises to Try at Home
When you’re at home, and you can’t stop thinking about how much your neck is bothering you, there are a few things that you can do to get at least some slight temporary relief while the body works through the healing process.
If you catch the problem right away, you can apply cold compresses to the area a few times a day for a couple of days. Following the first 48 to 72 hours, heat like what you would get from a hot shower can be used for pain relief.
While you are sitting on the couch or at your computer desk, you can also practice a few different exercises. Even when your neck isn’t bothering you, it’s an excellent idea to work these into your routine to prevent any problems from coming back.
After you speak with a chiropractor or medical doctor and get the all clear to exercise, start with:
- Neck tilts – pull your chin down to your chest and hold for about five seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat it five times.
- Side-to-side neck tilts – lead with your ear and pull your head toward one shoulder. Hold for five seconds and then return to the starting position. Do the same thing on the opposite side. Repeat five times.
- Neck stretch – stretch your throat out by pushing your chin forward and keeping the rest of your body still. Hold for five seconds. Go back to the starting position and then pull your chin backward and hold for five seconds. Repeat the forward and backward motion five times.
- Neck turns – while looking straight ahead, turn your head to the side keeping your chin level. Repeat the same motion in the other direction. Repeat five times for each side.
You should start these exercises as soon as you begin feeling any sort of discomfort in your neck. Continue doing them for at least six to eight weeks on a daily basis, even if your pain goes away.
Follow Good Habits to Prevent Pain in Your Neck
Like with many health issues people have, prevention is always the best form of treatment for neck pain. If you can keep it away from the start, you won’t have to worry about how to make it stop. Follow these guidelines to keep your neck pain at bay:
Sit up straight with back support, flat feet on the floor, and relaxed shoulders if you’re going to be in the same position for a while. Get up every 30 minutes or so for a good stretch.
- Keep your computer monitor at eye level so you aren’t straining to see it.
- Put the seat in your car in the most upright position, especially if you’re going to be driving around for a while.
- Consider investing in a cervical pillow to relieve everyday neck stress.
- Be mindful of your posture and practice sitting and standing with your spine and neck in alignment.
It’s Okay to Ignore Neck Pain and Stop Worrying…Sometimes
The human body is a complex system. There are times when your brain might simply be paranoid and going into a panic for no reason at all. That’s when the problem can seemingly come out of nowhere at all. You may have felt unexplained pain before in other areas of your body like the jaw, lower back, or bowels. It’s just something that happens, and it is unpredictable.
By worrying about neck pain all the time, you could actually be making the problem worse. The more you put your focus and energy on a small twinge, the more likely it is to turn into something that it doesn’t have to be. Try and turn your attention away from the small nuisance for a while. You might be surprised at how quickly your symptoms disappear.
Key Facts About the Chiropractic Profession. (n.d.). Retrieved August 7, 2018, from American Chiropractic Association: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/deep-vein-thrombosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20352557
The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2018, from National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: https://nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/2007/camsurvey_fs1.htm
Turn away from neck pain. (2016, May). Retrieved October 2, 2018, from Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School: https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/turn-away-from-neck-pain
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C is a graduate of the University of Nevada where he earned his bachelor’s of science degree before moving on to complete his doctorate from Western
States Chiropractic College. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998.
He became passionate about being in the chiropractic field after his own experiences with hurried, unprofessional healthcare providers. The goal for Dr. Wells is to treat his patients with care and compassion while providing them with a better quality of life through his professional treatment.
Dr. Wells is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.