Neck Pain Is More Than “A Pain In The Neck”
There is a common saying one often uses when describing something stressful to their life: “That is a pain in my neck.” That phrase is so common that we don’t realize the meaning behind it. So many people suffer from neck pain these days that we are numb to it. “It is just a normal part of the aging process” and “I have been told that I have arthritis” rolls off the tongue so easily that no one gives it a second thought.
One study published in the journal SPINE reports that up to 71.5% of the general public suffers from neck pain! The same study shows that 11%-14% of people will also have their work activities limited by neck pain. $86 billion dollars are spent each year to treat neck and back pain in this country medically with either prescriptions, physical therapy or surgery, and that number continues to go up. Can you imagine the amount of money lost each year in wasted productivity from workers that can’t get their work done efficiently because they are in so much pain?
What are the causes of neck pain? The Mayo Clinic states that the most common cause of neck pain is strain placed on the spinal cord and muscles from poor posture i.e. looking at a computer all day. But how does poor posture cause pain? As a culture, we spend the majority of our day looking down. Whether it is on the computer, bent over in some form of manual labor, or the hours we spend on our mobile devices in what is now called the “text neck position”, the act of sustained flexion (forward bending) causes improper biomechanics of the spine.
Studies show when the curve in your neck moves forward out of its normal position, your spinal cord experiences up to 40lbs of pressure on the discs and cord tissues which is severely stretched! This stretches narrows the cord, compresses spinal discs and narrows the opening for the exiting nerves of the neck.
When the spine is put under constant stress, one response is pain! That is the body’s way of letting us know that something is wrong and that immediate attention is needed. However, pain is literally only the tip of the iceberg.
Your neck, or cervical spine, is comprised of 7 bones, stacked one on top of the other, with nerves that exit on each side between the spinal bone and the discs that separate them. When the cervical spine is in the proper position, the bones form a smooth C-shaped curve, and the nerves that come out between each bone are free to transmit signals from the brain throughout the body without interference. Sustained poor posture reduces the C-shape of the neck bones, stretches the spinal cord and compresses the exiting nerves which results in a decrease in their electrical conduction velocity.
When a nerve is irritated, pain can be your most commonly interpreted response. But remember, your nerves do more than just transmit pain, they also transmit functional signals to your muscles and organs. The nerves in your neck control your ears, eyes, sinuses, esophagus, thyroid, heart, lungs and lymphatic/immune systems. An irritation in functional nerve signals can alter the organic function leading to conditions such as acid reflux, dizziness/vertigo, tinnitus (ringing in your ears), hypothyroid, arrhythmia/blood pressure, asthma and an overall suppressed immune system (which can ultimately create a number of other health conditions).
It is for this very reason that you should seek to restore proper alignment to your spine, reducing nerve irritation/compression and restoring normal functional signals to your muscles and organs. This is very the why behind “chiropractic miracles” – i.e. organic health issues (asthma, acid reflux, thyroid, diabetes, blood pressure, etc.) resolving once you begin to address your spinal posture/positioning and nerve compressions.