Many people deal with neck pain daily, sometimes it comes from a trauma or accident, or maybe a history of playing sports. However, in the cases where it seemingly comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t go away on its own, what’s the cause? When looking at the cause of any pain, you have to remember pain is a sensation.
Pain – the Body’s “Check Engine” Light
All sensations are transmitted throughout the entire body, from the brain through the spinal cord. A sensation can tell us if we’re in danger, so it really is a survival mechanism. If you touch a hot iron, you’ll pull away immediately. So, in the case of neck pain, it’s like a check engine light for your body. If you had one in your car, you wouldn’t cover it up with tape, you’d take it to mechanic and get it repaired. Unfortunately for many people, they choose to cover up the pain, with things such as pain pills, muscle relaxers, etc. There is a time and place for medicine, but in a case like this where the cause is mechanical, it just doesn’t make sense.
The Origin of Neck Pain
To recap, neck pain is your body’s way of telling you there’s a problem and you should get it checked before it gets worse. When we look at the neck region, what can it mean to get worse? There are a few conditions that can occur when we lose the normal position of our spine. Not only neck pain, but commonly headaches, migraines, numbness/tingling, arm/wrist/hand pain, dizziness/vertigo, tinnitus, and even movement disorders like Parkinson’s. Next, we will explain how the cause is mechanically from the spine, which can affect how well you function.
Perfect Spinal Alignment
Everyone knows the spine should be straight when looking at it from the front, but from the side we actually need three curves. We have three regions of our spine, the cervical or neck area, thoracic or mid back, and lumbar or low back. The cervical and lumbar curves should be lordotic and have a nice natural curve (a backwards “C” shape) that supports the skull in an upright position. With posture, that means the ear should be in line with the shoulder when looking from the side.
The spine has 24 movable vertebrae with several joints in between each bone. There are 7 in the neck, 12 in the mid back, and 5 in the low back. In between each (except below the skull and first bone in the neck) is a disc that helps us absorb shock and keep the spine upright. Our skull especially always has to remain upright, so typically the bones underneath buckle and compensate in return. When that happens it actually puts pressure on the spinal cord and irritates nerves, as you can imagine, you don’t want any pressure on the spinal cord or nerve irritation, since those both tell the body how to do everything without you thinking about it!
Effects of Poor Posture
This optimal spinal alignment of straight from the front and three curves from the side are what our bodies have adapted to from gravity over many, many years. So how do we lose this? Gravity is a force that’s constantly compressing us all day long, 24/7, so when we do things that make that worse like slouching down in a seat, slumping over looking at cell phones, working with poor posture, not staying active or moving our spines, we’re simply losing our normal alignment.
What Happens When You Ignore the “Check Engine” Light
When that happens over time the body tries to tell us something is wrong with pain, but we may ignore it. If left alone for years, we can end up with conditions like degenerative disc disease or osteoarthritis. This is actually an intelligent response from the body, as stated before, we have to keep upright, so if we slouch and lose our disc height, the body tries to lay down more bone to keep it up. In the advanced stages, this means bones can begin to fuse to each other. We definitely don’t want that! The good news is, it can definitely be avoided if caught in time and the proper steps are taken.
The First Step to Prevent Pain and Arthritis
First it would only make sense to get checked, to see the condition and alignment of your spine. The worse the condition, the more wear and tear it has, the more time it takes to get better. Just like a car, the more rust and dents it has, the more time it takes in the body shop. If you went on a road trip from Seattle to South Beach, when would you want to know you had a wheel out of alignment?
The Role of the Chiropractic Adjustment
It doesn’t make sense to do daily activities, let alone exercise, on a crooked spine. With chiropractic adjustments, the vertebrae of the spine are given motion, motion stimulates the nervous system to keep us upright. The adjustment also improves mobility and circulation, which helps our discs stay healthy. Not to mention, it helps relieve neck pain!
Check a Friend!
So, if poor posture can cause pain and decrease the ability of the spinal cord and nervous system to function, when should you get checked? Tell a friend, check their posture from the side and their shoulders from the front. Is one shoulder higher than the other? Do they carry their head in front of their shoulders from the side? We all need to know the condition of our spine just to combat the wear and tear from everyday gravity.
Contributed by Morgan Towles, D.C.