Cervical Joint Restriction
Neck pain affects over half of the population at some point in their life. Neck pain is second only to lower back pain as a cause of lost workdays. One of the most common causes of neck pain comes from a slightly misaligned or restricted joint in your neck.
Your neck is made up of seven bones stacked on top of each other with a soft “disc” between each segment to allow for flexibility.
Normally, each joint in your neck should move freely and independently. Our examination of your spine has shown that one or more of the joints in your neck is slightly misaligned and restricted. We call this condition “cervical segmental joint restriction” or more simply a “subluxation.” The term “subluxation” literally means “less than a dislocation.”
To help visualize this, imagine a normal neck functioning like a big spring moving freely in every direction. A neck with a joint restriction is like having a section of that spring welded together. The spring may still move as a whole, but a portion of it is no longer functioning.
Joint restrictions can develop in many ways. Sometimes they are brought on by an accident or an injury. Other times, they develop from repetitive strains or poor posture. Restricted joints give rise to a self-perpetuating cycle of discomfort. Joint restriction causes swelling and inflammation, which triggers muscular guarding leading to more restriction. Since your spine functions as a unit, rather than as isolated pieces, a joint restriction in one area of your spine often causes “compensatory” problems in another. Think of this as a rowboat with multiple oarsmen on each side. When one rower quits, the others are placed under additional stress and can become overworked.
Joint restrictions most commonly cause local tenderness and discomfort. You may notice that your range of motion is limited. Moving your head and neck may increase your discomfort. Pain from a restricted joint often trickles down to your shoulders and upper back. Headaches, light-headedness and/or jaw problems may result from joint restrictions in your upper neck. Be sure to tell your chiropractor if your symptoms include any dizziness, numbness or tingling in your face or arms, any changes in vision, or difficulty speaking, swallowing or walking.
Long-standing restrictions are thought to result in arthritis - much like the way a slightly misaligned wheel on your car causes premature wearing of your tire.
Fortunately, chiropractic care has been shown to be the safest and most effective treatment for joint restrictions. Our office offers several tools to help ease your pain. To speed your recovery, you should avoid carrying heavy bags or purses on your shoulder, as this may aggravate your condition. Be sure to take frequent breaks from sedentary activity.
Here is a brief description of the treatments we may use to help manage your problem.
Your chiropractor has found joints in your body that are not moving freely. This can cause tightness and discomfort and can accelerate unwanted degeneration i.e. arthritis. Your chiropractor will apply a gentle force with their hands, or with hand held instruments, in order to restore motion to any “restricted” joints. Sometimes a specialized table will be used to assist with these safe and effective “adjustments”. Joint manipulation improves flexibility, relieves pain and helps maintain healthy joints.
We may apply electrotherapy modalities that produce light electrical pulses transmitted through electrodes placed over your specific sites of concern. These comfortable modalities work to decrease your pain, limit inflammation and ease muscle spasm. Hot or cold packs are often used in conjunction, to enhance the effect of these modalities. Another available option is therapeutic ultrasound. Ultrasound pushes sound vibrations into tissues. When these vibrations reach your deep tissues, heat develops and unwanted waste products are dispersed.
Overworked muscles often become tight and develop knots or “trigger points”. Chronic tightness produces inflammation and swelling that ultimately leads to the formation of “adhesions” between tissues. Your chiropractor will apply pressure with their hands, or with specialized tools, in order to release muscle tightness and soft-tissue adhesions. This will help to improve your circulation, relieve pain and restore flexibility.
Muscle tightness or weakness causes discomfort and alters normal joint function, leading to additional problems. Your chiropractor will target tight or weak muscles with specific therapeutic stretching and strengthening to help increase tissue flexibility, build strength, and ease pain. Healthy, strong, and flexible muscles may help prevent re-injury.
After this initial course of treatment we will reassess your progress. We will determine the need for any additional care after your reassessment.
To avoid neck and upper back pain from improper neck support:
- Select a pillow that will hold your head in a neutral position while sleeping on your side or back.
- Avoid excessively thick or multiple pillows.
- Choose a fiberfill or feather/down pillow as these are usually better than foam.
- Consider a commercially available pillow that promotes good neck posture.
Ergonomics is the science of adjusting your workstation to minimize strain in the following ways:
- Wrists should not be bent while at the keyboard. Forearms and wrists should not be leaning on a hard edge.
- Use audio equipment that keeps you from bending your neck (i.e., Bluetooth, speakerphones, headsets).
- Monitors should be visible without leaning or straining and the top line of type should be 15 degrees below eye level.
- Use a lumber roll for lower back support.
- Avoid sitting on anything that would create an imbalance or uneven pressure (like your wallet).
- Take a 10-second break every 20 minutes: Micro activities include: standing, walking, or moving your head in a “plus sign” fashion.
- Periodically, perform the “Brugger relief position” -Position your body at the chair’s edge, feet pointed outward. Weight should be on your legs and your abdomen should be relaxed. Tilt your pelvis forward, lift your sternum, arch your back, drop your arms, and roll out your palms while squeezing your shoulders together. Take a few deep cleansing breaths.