The function of the neck is to orientate our special senses (smell, taste, vision, hearing and balance) and as a result is highly flexible in all directions. It is composed of seven bony segments which are referred to, from top to bottom, as C1-C7. Cartilaginous discs lie between each of the vertebra with the exception of the uppermost neck joint. These discs support the weight of the head and help to absorb any shock into the region.
The neck is susceptible to general ‘wear and tear’ as a result of poor posture as we get older. Wear and tear, known as ‘degeneration’ medically can cause localised pain and increased likelihood of trapped nerves. These are particularly common in the 30-50 age group. Other events such as whiplash from a road traffic accident, sporting injury and falling asleep in an awkward position can also cause localised neck pain and discomfort.
Here are some of the more common injuries that Osteopathy can help with:
A slipped disc (disc prolapse) in the neck can be a cause of neck and arm pain. While it is not as common as a herniated disc in the low back, it is still fairly common. The 30-50 age group is most likely to suffer from this condition.
Patients with a slipped disc in the neck will experience severe pain, which can be present in the neck, shoulder and down the arm. This pain can be exacerbated by neck movements and even by coughing or sneezing. The pain can be so severe it may stop the person from sleeping. Muscle spasm in the neck is common.
Osteopathic treatment techniques can help by gently mobilising the vertebra to help restore normal neck movement.
‘Traction’ is a very effective treatment for neck and arm pain. Traction refers to an upward pulling force, which lengthens the neck and relieves pressure on the discs in the neck. By relieving pressure on the discs it helps the prolapsed disc material to shrink back into the body of the disc.
Surgery should be considered in cases where there is intractable pain that is affecting quality of life.
Whiplash, also known as an acceleration-deceleration injury, is a common cause of neck pain. Occasionally whiplash is due to a sports injury, but most often it is due to a car accident.
The symptoms of whiplash include a stiff and painful neck that may only develop 24-72 hours after the collision, headaches, dizziness and blurred vision.
More serious symptoms of a severe pain at the back of the neck, memory loss or unconsciousness require immediate medical attention.
Cold therapy and anti-inflammatories are suggested in the first 24-48 hours. After this, soft tissue massage, stretching and manipulation by an Osteopath can help to reduce the symptoms of whiplash.
Acute torticollis, or wry neck are medical terms used to describe a sudden stiff neck. Most of us have experienced this at some stage in our lives. Usually the person wakes up with a stiff neck and neck pain, although occasionally the neck may become stuck following a sudden movement.
More often than not, a stiff neck is caused by muscular imbalance in the neck. Causes of muscular imbalance include poor sitting posture, repetitive unaccustomed neck movements (such as in golf, tennis, weight-lifting) and unusual sleep positions that we may adopt.
Osteopathic treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of a stiff neck through a series of gentle stretches and soft tissue massage to relax the muscles in spasm.
Tension type headaches account for nearly 90% of headaches. The pain can radiate from the neck, back or temples in the case of people who grind their teeth at night. These kind of headaches can present on either one or both sides of the head. A typical description would be a feeling of constant pressure as if the head was being squeezed in a vice. Tension headaches can last for minutes, hours or even weeks.
The main causes of tension headaches include muscular imbalance in the neck and upper back, poor posture, dehydration, stress, eye strain and poor sleeping position.
Osteopathic intervention includes addressing muscular imbalance and spinal misalignment in the neck and upper back. Soft tissue work and manipulation can help greatly. Workstation assessment, sleeping position and hydration levels should also be considered.
In addition, analgesic and anti-inflammatory medication can help if the symptoms are severe enough.