Based on my experience as a chiropractor for neck pain, I can confidently say a lot of us walk around feeling like this:
But most of us haven’t been trapped inside of a humble gravy boat that’s been hidden deep within a cave buried many hundreds of feet under an unspecified Arabian desert guarded by a giant tiger head made of sand brought to life by a magic beetle for multiple millennia. So what’s our excuse?
The human head is essentially a bowling ball sitting on top of a bowling pin. Weighing in at 10-12 pounds, our head is heavier than a newborn. God bless the women who give birth to the exceptions of this rule. The fact that our neck is able to support our head for 70+ years is a feat of engineering, but one that we have to work to maintain.
A stiff neck is a sure fire way to develop a bad attitude. It makes the routine a hassle, like shaking our head no to a manipulative coworker or rifling through a purse looking for the CVS rewards card. In many cases, a stiff neck comes with pain and decreased range of motion.
More often than not neck stiffness is inflammation rather than something more serious. The neck has an important job, it’s just going to be stiff sometimes, usually it’s a sign that the neck is trying to protect itself. Here are some potential causes of a stiff neck and insight on when it might be time to sound the alarm bells of something more serious.
Putting our body in an awkward position for an extended amount of time can cause our muscles to fatigue and spasm. This is as true of our neck muscles as it is for our legs after a long day at an amusement park. Or the mall, for some reason the mall is hell on my thighs. And my wallet.
Stiffness can often develop over night as our muscles try to repair themselves. Our sleep position can influence how our neck takes to the repair and how we feel in the morning. Any pillow/mattress combo should allow for our spine to be in a neutral position. This basically means we shouldn’t even think about sleeping on our stomach. While it might seem flirty, it causes our neck to maintain some pretty unhealthy positions in order to make sure that we can still breathe.
Bad posture, or tech neck, can also tire out the muscles in our neck. Staring down at our phones for hours on end, hunched over a computer all day trying to beat out Sharon for Employee of the Month, this is not a position our neck is designed to be in for extended periods of time.
Carrying an uneven load, like a backpack or purse on one shoulder, or pushing too hard at the gym to impress our gym crush, are two other ways that a seemingly harmless everyday activity can cause muscle strain.
Cervical Spine Disorders
The cervical spine, that’s what we in the biz call the part of the spine in the neck, is a complex structure. It’s got discs, bones, joints, muscles, and nerves oh my, all of which can be injured or worn down over time.
- Osteoarthritis is a narrowing of the joint space commonly seen in the neck. Our joints need to move in order to stay healthy, if we live a sedentary lifestyle or practice poor posture our joints will begin to break down. Osteoarthritis can also cause bone spurs which will irritate the nerves in the neck and cause pain and dysfunction.
- Disc Problems like a herniated or bulged disc can also put pressure on the nerves in the neck. Spinal discs are like little jelly donuts with a soft center that is encased by a tougher exterior. When that tough exterior breaks down the soft raspberry center can ooze out causing pain, stiffness, numbness, and tingling. Note: the center of our spinal discs is not actually raspberry. But what if it was?!
These disorders need to be diagnosed and treated by someone who knows what they’re doing. Like one us! Even if the symptoms feel mild, it’s not a ridiculous idea to ask a health professional for some advice. We can create a customized chiropractic care plan that will provide neck pain relief and prevent it from coming back.
Compared with the other causes above, a stiff neck caused by an infection is rare, but it is a cue to sound the alarm. Meningitis, an inflammation of the protective membranes that surround the spinal cord and brain is a big concern here.
Go to the doctor immediately if experiencing:
- Severe pain shooting down the arms
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arms, hands, or legs
- Problems controlling bladder or bowels
- Balance issues
- Sudden clumsiness
- A recent accident or injury
- Severe headache
- Sudden and high fever
- Increased sensitivity to light
How long the pain has lasted is an important factor to keep note of. Most muscle strains will start to feel better within a few days or a couple of weeks. Chronic neck pain is usually a result of a cervical spine disorder and will likely get worse over time.
Another factor is where the pain is coming from. Muscle strains are usually felt where the tissue is damaged. Sometimes the pain can refer up or down the neck to the shoulders, but for the most part the pain is localized.
Cervical spine disorders have radiating pain because of a compressed or inflamed nerve root. Numbness or weakness are also possible here due to the interference with proper nerve function.
Yes, there are times when a stiff neck is a bigger deal than others, but that doesn’t mean that anyone should “suck it up” when it comes to pain. Who would say such a thing?
There are many things we recommend to patients to alleviate neck pain, based on what is causing the issue. Neck exercises are lauded within the Giraffa species for strengthening the muscles that stabilize the neck and stretching the muscles that may have become tight because of poor posture.
We are always here to help with neck pain, no matter its severity. Through a comprehensive consultation we’ll turn over every stone, can’t hide anything from us, to figure out why this pain is happening and create a strategy for care that can alleviate the pain and keep it away for good. Through a customized therapeutic exercise plan, massage therapy, cervical spinal decompression, deep tissue laser, and the all important chiropractic adjustment, we can correct any structural deficiencies in the neck which is the only way to keep pressure off the nerves to keep pain and dysfunction at bay.
Here is live footage of our chiropractors springing into action to help our neck pain patients:
Give us a call or schedule a time to talk to one of our amazingly agile doctors. Pain is not something to suck up. It’s a warning that something is off inside of our body. Even if it’s “manageable” it still needs to be addressed. That’s what we’re here for.