At one point or another, almost everyone will experience neck pain. More often than not, it will last for a couple of days, disappear all on its own and not return. However, there are some cases when neck pain comes and doesn’t improve. It might linger for days, weeks, or even months. Most sources of neck pain are everyday habits or occurrences that add up to cause discomfort.
- Carrying a purse, backpack, or laptop bag over one shoulder
- Holding your phone between your head and neck
- Disc degeneration
- Poor posture or ergonomics at work
- Sleeping on your stomach
- TMJ (jaw) disorders
- Accidents or injuries (car, sports, etc.)
- Spinal misalignments
When neck pain begins to linger and affect your everyday life, most people start looking for relief options. While the majority of neck pain is simple and will respond to home remedies like heat, stretching, etc., it’s important to understand when to seek help and where to go.
The Anatomy of Neck Pain
Your neck is a well-engineered combination of bones, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, muscles, and tendons. The neck has to be a balance of strong and flexible. It needs to work to carry the weight of your head (10-13 pounds in an average adult) and also needs to have the capability to allow for movement in all directions. The neck is sometimes referred to as the cervical spine. The cervical spine houses and protects the brainstem and spinal cord, which relay messages between the brain and the rest of the body.
One part of your cervical spine is designed completely differently than the rest, and that’s the part that connects your spine with your skull. This area is known as the upper cervical spine, and your atlas (C1) vertebra is the one responsible for bearing the weight of the head and also allowing for the majority of its motion. The bones that sit at the very top of the neck are shaped differently to allow for this freedom of movement to take place. Because they move around so much, they can also be particularly vulnerable to misaligning. When a misalignment takes place at the top, similar to a chain of dominos, it can have far-reaching effects throughout the rest of the neck and even further down the back.
Neck Pain Red Flags – When to See Your Doctor
It’s not terribly common that neck pain turns out to be something serious or life-threatening, but there are definitely some instances that warrant a visit to your medical doctor:
- You’ve lost weight without trying to
- You’ve had an ongoing fever or chills – this can be a sign of an underlying infection
- A severe headache that comes on very suddenly, often described as a “thunderclap” or the worst headache ever
- An inability to bend the head forward without extreme pain or discomfort, which can be a sign of meningitis
- Altered mental status along with severe neck pain
- Neck pain with unexplained dizziness, nausea or vomiting
Addressing the Root Cause of Neck Pain
Most people are familiar with chiropractic care and are aware that chiropractors can help with neck pain relief. However, you may not be familiar with upper cervical chiropractic care, which is a niche within chiropractic that has a very particular goal and focus. Upper cervical chiropractic care takes an extremely detailed look at how the atlas is positioned. This is extremely important for several reasons:
- Atlas alignment can influence how the rest of the neck can move. A misalignment at the top of the neck at the most freely movable vertebra can cause abnormal movement below, leading to pain in other areas of the neck and back.
- When the atlas misaligns, it can have a negative impact on nervous system function, particularly the brainstem. When neck pain comes along with migraines, jaw pain, dizziness or vertigo, hearing changes and other associated symptoms, it could be that there is a problem with how the brain is able to communicate with the rest of your body over the nerves. An abnormally positioned atlas can irritate the brainstem, which is responsible for many of your body’s life-sustaining functions such as respiration and heart function.
- Blood flow between the brain and body can be reduced with an atlas misalignment. The blood vessels that bring oxygen to and from the brain pass through small openings, or foramen, in the vertebrae of your neck. Misalignments can cause reduced blood flow, which in turn reduces the amount of oxygen available to your brain
- Circulation of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) relies on normal spinal positioning. CSF has two main jobs – to bring nutrients to the tissues of your brain and spinal cord, and to rid those same tissues of metabolic waste products. When the atlas misaligns, it can form a choke point for the normal flow of CSF. When the central nervous system does not get the proper nutrients to function or when there’s a buildup of waste, it can result in numerous diseases or disorders.
Knowing what you know now, neck pain can not only be uncomfortable, it can also be related to many other possible health conditions. By correcting how the atlas is positioned and by guiding it back to normal, it can not only reduce neck pain and discomfort, it can actually help your entire body to function better. When the atlas moves as it should, it reduces the strain on the entire neck, which can be the lasting solution to many bouts of recurring neck pain.
With upper cervical chiropractic care, the goal is stability and healing. You won’t find that you’ll need repeated adjustments over and over again in order to accomplish fleeting relief. Since we are so thorough in evaluating the exact nature of each individual’s case, gentle adjustments are customized for each patient with the goal of having them hold in place for as long as possible. This is why we are able to help so many people out of pain and into a better quality of life.