What Does a Chiropractor Do for Neck Pain?

What is neck pain?

The neck or cervical spine starts at the base of the skull containing seven tiny vertebrae. The neck supports your head, which can be an average of 12 pounds. The flexibility of the neck makes it susceptible to pain and injury

Activities that may affect the neck’s biomechanics include: accidents, repetitive movement, falls and blows to head or body, wear and tear and normal aging. Neck pain is a bother to the patient and has a variety of causes. Juneau chiropractors offer relief to neck pain sufferers for the benefit of long-term health. 

Causes of Neck Pain

  • Injury and accidents

A sudden movement that is forced on the neck or head towards any direction together with a resulting rebound mostly in the opposite direction is termed as whiplash. This sudden whipping motion leads to injury to the surrounding and supporting tissue.

The muscles then react by contracting and tightening, leading to muscle fatigue, which results to stiffness and pain. Car accidents are among the most common causes of whiplash. Severe whiplash may be related to injury of the ligaments, discs, muscles, joints and nerve roots. Chiropractic treatments may be customized for whiplash patients.

  • Aging

Degenerative disorders like spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease have an effect on the spine. Osteoarthritis leads to progressive deterioration of cartilage. Disc degeneration causes reduced elasticity and reduced height of the vertebral discs. With time, the disc may bulge causing pain.

  • Daily Life Events

Weak abdominal muscles and obesity disrupt the spinal balance that may cause the cervical spine to bend forward in an effort to compensate. Emotional tension together with stress may cause muscles to contract and tighten resulting in pain. Postural stress contributes to chronic neck pain and the symptoms may extend to arms and upper back.

Does Chiropractic Help Neck Pain?

During your visit, a chiropractor for neck pain will perform an exam to help locate the source of the pain by asking a number of questions and any remedy you may have tried. Neurological and physical exams will also be done. The physical exam involves examination of posture, physical condition and range of motion.

After noting any movements that cause pain, the doctor will then feel your spine to note curvature and alignment. A check of the shoulder area will also be done. During the neurological exam, the neck pain chiropractor will then check muscle strength, reflexes, pain spread and nerve changes.

In some cases, you might have to undergo tests to help diagnose the condition. An X-ray is capable of showing narrow disc space, arthritis, fractures and bone spurs. An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or a CT (Computerized Tomography) scan shows herniation and bulging discs.

If your doctor diagnoses any condition outside the conservative scope like neck fracture or indication of a disease, you will be referred to a specialist or medical physician. This ensures that your chiropractic and medical care are well coordinated.

Chiropractic Treatments for Neck Pain

A chiropractor for neck pain will treat you based on the cause. Your doctor may develop a program combining more than one form of treatment depending on personal needs. Below are some of the options that may be used.

  • Cervical Adjustments

A cervical adjustment is a procedure applied to joints of the cervical spine, mostly by use of hands. The neck adjustment works by improving mobility and restoring range of motion. Patients normally notice improved ability to tilt and turn head as well as reduction of stiffness and pain afterward.

  • Cervical Mobilization

It involves the patient lying on his or her back relaxed while a neck pain chiropractor manually moves the vertebra in the cervical spine from right to left and vice versa while alternating side to side motion with a figure eight movement. This is done at varying degrees, moving the head backward, forward, side and in rotation.

This is a non-thrust type of stretch, its goal being to reduce fixations or points which motion is restricted. An oscillatory movement using hands is frequently used during neck mobilization.

  • Cervical Manual Traction

This is done when the face of the patient is facing upwards while lying down or sitting. The chiropractor then gently pulls the neck stretching it, varying the angle between extension and flexion based on comfort while looking for the correct angle in order to reduce the tightness. This method is commonly used with mobilization, switching among the two or both, simultaneously.

  • Cervical Drop Technique

The patient will either be lying on the side or on the stomach on a special table with a head drop-piece being lifted into a locked position. The chiropractor for neck pain then places fingers over spinal segment requiring adjustment. A medium to high velocity, non-thrust increasing downward pressure or low amplitude thrust is applied.

This is done until the head piece of the table releases dropping at a short distance. The main aim is to reduce fixation of cervical vertebrae with assistance from the motion table. No rotation or twisting of the head is done in traditional adjustment. Joint cavitation may or may not be experienced using this method.

Manual therapies may also be used to treat neck pain. They include:

  • Instrument- assisted soft tissue therapy: It uses special instruments in diagnosing and treating muscle tension
  • Therapeutic massage: It helps relax tensed muscles
  • Trigger point therapy: It is used to alleviate tight and painful points on a muscle.
  • Manual joint stretching and resistance techniques: Help in reducing neck pain and other signs and symptoms.

Therapeutic exercises may be recommended, which help improve range of motion in the neck and also prevents neck pain form progressing. The listed above are only examples: the actual treatment plan depends on the diagnosis.

Chiropractor Recommended Pillows for Neck Pain

Using the wrong pillow could result to neck pain. You need a good pillow that will not result into neck pain or stiffness. The neck should be aligned with the spine while sleeping. Your chiropractor will suggest to you the best pillow you should buy for neck pain relief.

The stuffing material used determines the level of support and comfort you will get. If it is too soft or firm, it will still lead to losing sleep either way. Below are materials you should consider to help you eliminate neck pain.

  • Memory foam

This material is uniformly soft eliminating uneven lumps, which could get in the way causing head and spine to slide out of alignment. To add on this, they are durable offering you value for your money.

  • Latex

This type of pillows closely resembles memory foam in terms of comfort and support. They come in different styles that are very helpful during stressful nights. They are also heavy and can be somehow expensive.

  • Cotton Cervical Pillows

This type of pillows is ideal for stomach sleepers. They are soft and may not last for a very long. They are odorless, cool and mostly hypoallergenic.

  • Gelatin

Gel-infused pillows are known for their cooling properties, making them ideal for summer. With advanced technology, the synthetic gel neck care pillows are very effective at alleviating neck pain.

  • Feather Pillows

Many people use feather pillows for alleviating neck pain. They are super soft with a stylish design. However, your chiropractor may recommend you to leave out this alternative if you have allergies as they may lead to breathing discomfort.

  • Water Base Pillows

Pillows with water-filled core shave splendid support and pressure adjustability. Despite from being fancy, they are a good choice for sleepers who switch positions throughout the night. You will get the support you require, preventing you from getting neck pain.

Chiropractor or Orthopedist or Physical Therapist

Chiropractor for neck pain

Chiropractors are well-trained to analyze patients by use of diagnostic tests and physical exams. Treatment plans may include neck exercises together with propositions for a healthier lifestyle and chiropractic treatments. Doctors of chiropractic do not at any time prescribe medication as part of treatment.

For neck pain, a doctor of chiropractic would use chiropractic neck adjustments, referred to as cervical manipulation to loosen up neck joints in the cervical spine. This helps to treat the pain caused by muscle spasms and pinched nerves. To comprehensively deal with the neck pain, your chiropractor would do the following:

  • Evaluate the spinal column to check if there is any other affected area apart from the cervical spine.
  • Conduct an in-depth examination so as to diagnose the underlying cause of the problem.
  • Along with a physical exam, he or she will take medical history and do imaging tests, such as an X-ray.
  • Then he or she will devise a chiropractic treatment plan.

Treatment options may include:

  • Cervical adjustments
  • Flexion-distraction technique
  • Instrument assisted manipulation
  • Instrument assisted soft tissue therapy
  • Manual joint stretching
  • Trigger point therapy
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Inferential electrical stimulation
  • Ultrasound
  • Therapeutic exercises

Orthopedist for neck pain

If you are experiencing neck pain, an orthopedist may be of help as he or she is a highly trained surgeon. Your orthopedic surgeon will first have to diagnose the cause of the pain before suggesting any treatment. This may be

  • Getting your entire medical history that may be related to any problems you have ever had previously together with any injuries or illnesses that may have contributed to the current situation you are facing.
  • Perform a physical exam that may include an analysis of your cervical spine motion and the severity of the pain.
  • May possibly test the functioning of your muscles and nerves in arms and legs to determine if there is a nerve problem in connection to your neck pain.
  • He or she may consider ordering an X-ray or blood tests to analyze bone, spinal cord, nerve, disc, muscles and roots in your neck.

After establishing the cause, your orthopedist may recommend treatment which may include:

  • Medication: You may require drugs to relax muscles, reduce inflammation and also relieve pain.
  • Immobilization: This is to help prevent or heal injuries. A neck brace may be recommended to be worn for a given amount of time.
  • Physical therapy and exercises: Your orthopedist may give you references for physical therapy that will come up with a program to stretch and strengthen your neck relieving it of pain.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, a surgery may be recommended. It may be necessary if you have suffered a herniated disc in your spine.

Physical therapist for neck pain

A physical therapist will start by asking you questions to help in figuring out the problem. He or she may consult your doctor at times.  The main focus of physical therapy for neck pain is to improve and strengthen tendons, muscles and ligaments, which support the vertebrae.

After determining the problem, the therapist will create a treatment plan to help relieve neck pain. In addition to doing exercises, other options may be:

  • Electrical stimulation of muscles
  • Application of heat or ice
  • Massage therapy
  • Neck traction
  • Ultrasound

When to See a Chiropractor for Neck Pain?

While there are a number of home remedies one can consider while at home to relieve neck pain, it is crucial for you to know the time you need to see a chiropractor. Here are some instances, which you should check and act immediately.

  • When stiffness or neck pain does not seem to improve after some days. This may indicate a serious problem which needs to be checked by a chiropractor to diagnose the problem and suggest treatment before the pain gets worse.
  • If your head cannot shift from side to side without severe pain.
  • If you are relying on over-the-counter medication regularly to make it through the day. This may not solve the problem as you will only be relieving pain, but not taking care of the underlying problem.
  • If the neck pain started around the neck, but has shifted to tingling in wrists or hands or numbness.
  • If the pain commenced in the aftermath of a car accident. As mentioned earlier, car accidents are a common cause of cervical pain or injury. You should immediately see a doctor of chiropractic to deal with the problem.
  • Your neck pain was worse in the morning, but you started to feel better as the day progressed. Just because you feel like the pain is reducing does not mean that you should not see a chiropractor. It may get worse the following morning, subjecting you to unbearable pain. 

In Conclusion

Seeing a chiropractor for pain in the neck or injury is a very important choice to make, especially if you are aware of the specific movement that may be causing the pain, such as falls, whiplash injury or lifting of heavy items. This makes it easy for you to be provided with the appropriate treatment.

Injuries that result from abnormal motion may cause muscles to become overextended, making the vertebra in your neck to shift out of the required alignment. By use of chiropractic therapy, your doctor will re-align the vertebra, restoring the normal range of motion.

Your doctor will suggest activities that can prevent neck pain. They may include: maintaining good posture, changing your habits by taking micro-breaks throughout the day, using a recommended pillow while sleeping, and trying regular exercises to improve range of motion. If it is your first visit to a chiropractor, remember to ask questions that you feel may help you best proceed in getting well efficiently.

About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells - Anchorage ChiropractorDr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.