Understanding the Causes of Neck Pain

Neck pain can be caused by injury or trauma but in many cases it is caused by nerves that have been impinged upon by a joint or disc that has moved out of alignment. Poor posture due to improper use of handheld electronic devices is also a major cause of neck pain. It is important to address your neck pain early to avoid more serious complications.

How do you explain what a stiff neck is? And what causes it?

Dr. Luke Stringer: A stiff neck is something that we see quite commonly in our office, and essentially, a stiff neck is exactly as it sounds. It’s a neck that’s restricted in its range of motion, and usually has some sort of symptom, pain with it. Many causes, it can be something as simple as sleeping in a funny position, taking a long flight, having a long, stressed day.

And there’s a myriad of causes of it, but essentially, stiffness usually comes in the soft tissue or the muscles, ligaments, tendons in your neck. So, when that soft tissue is put under a state of stress. So, for example, postural stress. You took a four or five hour flight, and it was really cramped conditions. When the tissue is under a consistent state of strain and stress, then the muscles and your body’s mechanism is to kind of protect that muscle or the joint by allowing it not to move, essentially. So, the stiffness originates from the body’s self-mechanism of trying to shut that structure or that tissue down to prevent further injury, essentially.

What can cause your neck to hurt only on one side?

Dr. Luke Stringer:  Great question. And it obviously depends on the type of trauma, right? For example, if you were in a car accident and you were hit from the right side, you might have pain on the right side of your neck. But if it’s not derived from a specific trauma, like a car accident or a sports injury, essentially, within the neck you have a nerve root and those nerve roots branch off into two separate nerve roots. And those nerve roots go and innovate all sorts of structures. You have the sensory nerve root and the asensory nerve root, which kind of does a little bit more in terms of function.

When the sensory portion of the nerve root is impinged under a state of stress, might be from a joint that has shifted out of alignment, some inflammation from a trauma, a specific nerve root might be the one on the left or the right, essentially, would be impinged. That’s usually why you get pain that shifts to one side of the body. It follows that sensory nerve root, which will innovate a specific structure within the neck.

What impact has the use of cell phones and handheld devices had on causing neck pain?

Dr. Luke Stringer: You can’t quite measure the impact it’s had, but speaking from experience in our office, it’s had a huge, really, really significant effect on people’s health. So, kids who are three, four years old, all the way to adults, essentially.

Most people using cell phones, handheld devices are essentially looking down. Well, imagine holding a bowling ball in your hand and holding that bowling ball really close to your arm and your chest. The bowling ball doesn’t feel that heavy. As your arm reaches out and the bowling ball is further away from your body, then, obviously, the bowling ball is essentially harder to hold, right? It feels heavy.

So, imagine you’re in good posture and you’re looking straight ahead and you’re following all the good ergonomic protocols you should. Then, imagine yourself on a train ride, in a car with your chin on your chest, staring down at your phone for an extended period of time.

Well, essentially, the weight of your head over time, slowly but surely pulls your neck out of alignment, increases pressure on the discs, on the soft tissue. And it really does break us down. Acute pain, chronic pain, but the thing is in the neck, the thyroid is partially innovated by the nerve roots in your neck. So, when you have impingement on those nerve roots, the disc degeneration or just general, poor posture, then, we’re not just discussing pain, essentially. We’re also discussing those lifestyle diseases, right? Classic corporate America, fatigue, anxiety, all the things essentially your thyroid controls.

So, tech neck is essentially a modern medical phenomenon, and we actually call it tech neck. And I feel it’s having a huge, huge impact on both the youth of today and the adult society in terms of how they not only feel but how they also function.

Can chronic neck pain be a sign of something more serious?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. Right? Pain is, as we all know, is the body’s way of telling us something’s wrong. So, again, we discussed this on previous podcasts. When you’re in acute pain, it’s usually pain that’s new or only lasting for a short period of time, a week or two.

But when we are in chronic pain, the pain’s been going on for several weeks, months. Essentially, it’s an issue and it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Obviously, the specific issue would need to be figured out via an exam and a diagnosis.

But procrastination is the thief of health, right? So, the longer we’re in pain, the more stress we’re putting onto the body. And over time that negative circle just breaks us down. So, if you don’t address it over time, unfortunately, things are just going to deteriorate and get worse. Usually it gets worse, it gets more serious, right?

If neck pain is not treated, in what ways can it affect your health and the rest of your body?

Dr. Luke Stringer: I think we touched on this in the previous question. It’s kind of the impact cell phone use has on the body. And even the question just before about chronic neck pain. Again, pain is essentially the body’s way of telling us something is wrong.

If you don’t address the symptoms and we just treat the symptoms, then, obviously, it’s going to have a cascading effect on how we function. For example, we have neck pain for a week or two and it’s acute and all of a sudden it’s referring into your shoulders, into your arms and we’re getting numbness, tingling, and even loss of motor function.

That’s the progression that we see via neck pain, typically, when we’re dealing with an issue within the disc, within the neck. So, if you’re in pain, address it early because essentially is going to mean less time, less energy and less effort in fixing it. The longer we leave it, the more complications we have. But it’s just essentially more resources that we all don’t have enough of time, energy, and effort to essentially correct the problem.

Learn More

If you are interested in speaking with Dr. Luke Stringer visit www.southloopchiropractor.com or call (312) 987-4878 to schedule an appointment.

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