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Neck Pain Relief Strategies

March 21, 2011

It’s probably happened to you before in any number of scenarios:  while turning your head to shoulder check, playing a relaxed game of volleyball/basketball/bowling, or stretching out during a yawn in the morning when all of a sudden you feel a sharp burning sensation in your neck.  It can start at the side or back of your neck and work its way down between your shoulder blades or down into your arm.  The proverbial and literal “pain in the neck”.

The neck is very much like the low back in that seemingly trivial movements or stresses can suddenly bring on acute pain out of know where.  One minute you were fine, and the next you have to shift your entire torso to speak to the person sitting next to you.  The fact of the matter is that although most cases of acute neck pain are relatively benign and self-limiting it’s usually not something that came on out of the blue.  And although the symptoms of pain and limited range of motion are sudden, there is usually some underlying dysfunction that’s been building up for some time prior to this episode.

Although the body is much more complex, in many ways it works like a machine.  Your car, for example, when driven regularly, needs more than just gasoline to keep going.  Without periodic maintenance check-ups such as an oil change, alignment and tire rotation, your car’s performance will suffer.  At first you may not notice the subtle signs starting with diminished fuel economy and worn tire tread but eventually that neglect can end in brake failure or a seized engine.  Similarly, your body is susceptible to the wear and tear of daily stresses that can build up over time.  But because your body is also great at compensating for diminished performance (an adaptation which helps us to survive in a more sedentary society) you don’t always notice the dysfunction building up – that is, until it hits a threshold and symptoms become apparent.  It’s the classic case of the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the giraffe’s neck).

Of course we all know that prevention is the best medicine.  Maintenance through regular stretching and stress reduction techniques are always a good idea.  But you have pain right now, so what can you do?  Here are some options:

Apply a cold compress over the affected side or area.  In the early stages of acute pain (the first two to three days) cold helps to reduce the pain and inflammation.  Only apply for approximately ten minutes at a time to avoid freezing the area.

Try to continue with your activities of daily living as you are able.  Although it’s just fine to take some time to rest, avoid sitting still and doing nothing.  Inactivity causes the muscles and joints involved to stiffen up even more.  In most cases there is nothing structurally wrong with the neck.  Moving it gently, although uncomfortable, isn’t damaging.

Avoid wearing a neck brace or collar.  This ties in with the above note to keep moving.  Restricting the already restricted movement of your neck by wearing a brace will only delay your recovery time.  This is even the case for most whiplash type injuries.  And if the pain level is that severe then you should seek evaluation by your chiropractor or other qualified health professional.

Often, however, you want some extra help.  Chiropractic treatment can be beneficial in decreasing pain and speeding up the recovery time.  Here are some of the therapies that work especially well for acute neck pain:

Adjustment – This is the treatment that chiropractors are best known for.  An adjustment is a highly skilled and precise movement usually applied by hand to a joint of the body. Adjustments loosen the joint to restore proper movement and optimize function.  When a joint is adjusted, a gas bubble within the joint fluid sometimes forms causing the popping sensation you may have heard about.  There is also a localized release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers, around the joint.  This further helps things to feel better and allows more freedom of movement.

Mobilization – Joint mobilizations involve a slow rhythmic induction of movement to a specific joint in the body. Like adjustments, mobilizations help to restore proper movement and to optimize function.  Not all patients are good candidates for adjustments; therefore mobilization can be a great alternative.

Passive Stretching – Sometimes it can be difficult, especially when in pain, to stretch on your own.  We are able to help passively (without your assistance) move your joints into specific positions in order to achieve the relaxation effect that stretching provides.

TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) – TENS therapy is an electro-stimulation modality that is applied to the affected area using pads and works to decrease muscle spasm, pain and inflammation.  TENS can be very beneficial with acute, painful injuries.  Depending on the setting, TENS can feel like an electrical tingle or a pulsing/contracting sensation within the muscles.

Prevention – As stated earlier, prevention is a key component.  Once things are feeling better, your chiropractor can provide tips on healthy strategies like stretching, exercise, and stress relief to both feel better and stay well.

If you’re having problems with neck pain or whiplash and would like more information on finding a Guelph chiropractor please contact us at Clear Path Chiropractic Health Centre.

Photo Credit:  wwarby

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From → Neck Pain

3 Comments
  1. thanks a lot. that really helped me. i have been experiencing acute neck and shoulder pain for some weeks now. almost everyday, when i get up that t-zone from my neck to my shoulders keeps hurting. and i have not been sleeping in any different way. i sleep on my stomach with my arms and legs all over the bed, like i have always done. gradually towards evening, the pain reduces. but its back the next morning. i also experience it when i am writing on my computer. (which i do frequently) but when i write its those two bones that pop out from under your neck (i don’t know what to call them) that hurt. plus i am just 17. is that a bad sign??

    • Hi Rashmi, thank you for stopping in.

      Although I cannot speak to your case specifically I do recommend people sleep on either their back or on their side. Sleeping on one’s stomach causes the neck to rotate to one side or the other for a prolonged period of time and can cause undue stress on the joints. For a more complete understanding of your condition I would suggest seeing your family physician, chiropractor or massage therapist. There is no better substitute to get to the root cause of the problem than a person-to-person evaluation.

      Stay well.

  2. thank you. i will get in touch with my physician as soon as possible.

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