It seems unavoidable that neck pain will, at some point in your life, get in the way of your normal activities. Your neck, the cervical spine, has seven vertebrae. It extends from the tops of your shoulders up to the base of the skull. The cervical spine must have a good combination of strength and flexibility. It must be strong enough to bear the weight of your head, which in the average adult is approximately 10-12 pounds. It also requires flexibility in order to move your head through all of its natural ranges of motion. Your neck should be able to move painlessly from side to side, rotating left and right, up and down, and tilting left and right to bring your ear towards your shoulder.
The neck is so vulnerable to injury and pain in part because of how it is designed. Accidents, falls, repetitive motions, and wear and tear all conditions that contribute to the development of neck pain. When looking for options in order to feel better, it is necessary to understand the nature of the issue.
The Most Common Neck Pain Causes
The majority of cases of neck pain have their origins in some common areas:
- Accidents or injury – neck trauma can occur for many reasons. Car accidents and sports injuries are among the most common reasons for injury to the neck. Whiplash or any other type of injury can affect the bones and soft tissues of the neck. In order for optimal healing to occur, the proper treatment must be rendered at the time of injury.
- Osteoarthritis – the spine has many joints that can, over time, degrade. The cartilage that prevents bones from contacting each other wears thin and symptoms will develop over time as the joint wears down further.
- Disc degeneration – the discs in your spine sit in between each vertebra and provide some cushion for our movements. The discs are designed to absorb some of the forces that our body sustains during day-to-day activities. Without proper movement and nutrition, the discs can begin to wear, and the inner portion of the disc (the nucleus pulposis) can begin to push through the outer fibrous rings. When this occurs, it can cause extreme pain and irritation of the nerve root.
- Spinal stenosis – stenosis occurs when the canal through which your spinal cord passes becomes narrowed. This can happen as a result of degenerative disc disease, arthritis of the joints, and formation of bone spurs. Spinal misalignments can also cause a narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Spinal misalignments – spinal misalignments, or subluxation, can arise from injury or wear and tear. This is when the vertebrae of your spine misalign and cause irritation to the surrounding tissues. This can cause muscle spasm, pain, and nerve compromise.
While some things, such as motor vehicle accidents, are impossible to prevent entirely, other causes of neck pain can be reduced or even avoided with a natural, lasting approach.
Upper Cervical Chiropractic Care Is Different
Getting to the root cause of your neck pain and discomfort requires a specific and systematic approach. This includes understanding when the pain began, what measures you’ve taken in order to find relief, whether the pain remains in the neck or radiates to other parts of your body, and what makes it better or worse.
The upper cervical chiropractic approach is unique. When we look at the neck, the area that is located just beneath the skull is different from the rest of the cervical spine. The atlas vertebra, the uppermost one that supports the weight of the head, has a shape that is totally different from the rest. It doesn’t have the same type of joints that the rest of the neck has. Its joint is nearly flat, which is what allows us the freedom of movement of our heads. Because the atlas has this remarkable range of motion, it is also particularly vulnerable to injury. It lacks the interlocking joints that the rest of the cervical spine has in order to restrict motion.
When the atlas misaligns, the head is not able to be carried in a neutral position. This puts abnormal stress and strain on the soft tissues of the neck. Ligaments, tendons, and muscles need to compensate to accommodate for the spinal misalignment. This can cause other joints in the neck to lock up or move improperly, causing additional problems.
An upper cervical misalignment can also cause bigger issues. The atlas (C1) and the axis (C2) that sits just below it protect the brainstem. The brainstem is a very important component of your body’s central nervous system (CNS) that controls many of its life-sustaining functions. Pressure on the brainstem from an upper cervical misalignment can cause normal brain-body signals travelling over the CNS to become distorted. This can lead to numerous other health conditions, including migraines, headaches, TMJ dysfunction, and vertigo. Interestingly, many of these other health conditions also come along with neck pain as a symptom.
Natural Neck Pain Relief
Using an upper cervical chiropractic approach, your doctor will help you to pinpoint the underlying cause of your neck pain. In most cases, your upper cervical chiropractor will talk to you about your health history as well as your current condition in detail. A series of diagnostic tests will be performed, including x-rays that are very specific to identifying the root cause of the problem. Everyone’s bone structure is different, and no two misalignments are alike, so it makes sense that a chiropractic adjustment be tailored to fit the needs of each individual.
Upper cervical chiropractic adjustments are different as well. They are extremely gentle and precise, with the goal being to actually adjust the area as little as possible in order to restore proper function and allow for the maximum amount of healing to take place. Measurements are taken both before and after the adjustment to be sure that the necessary correction is made, that way the doctor and patient both know that they are on the path to achieving lasting, natural results that work with your body, not against it.