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Neck pain is a very common condition that affects nearly 70 percent of all persons at some point in their lives. Although this condition may not be life-threatening, neck pain can a have a very deleterious effect on one’s quality of life.

The cervical spine begins at the base of the skull and is composed of the top seven vertebrae. There are also discs, ligaments, tendons and muscles that attach to the vertebra. These soft tissue structures make it possible for you to move your neck. The cervical spine houses the nerves that affect the head, shoulders, arms and hands.

What causes neck pain?

The most frequent cause of neck pain is related to a sudden injury where the neck is twisted beyond the cervical spine’s normal range of motion. When the muscles, ligaments and tendons are stretched beyond their normal limits, a sprain or strain is the result. A stretching injury, like a whiplash, may be so severe that vertebra become misaligned and pinch the spinal nerves.

Simple muscular injuries (strains) will typically heal without any medical treatment, and the basic care for a strain is rest, stretching, ice and heat. However, with a more significant cervical spine injury (sprain and misalignment), the body’s way of healing is to calcify or stiffen the injured area. Untreated neck injuries may eventually result in osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease and pinched nerve openings.

In addition to trauma, a common cause of neck pain is poor posture. Activities that cause poor posture include the following: constantly looking down when you read, prolonged computer work, knitting for hours, overhead work, and sleeping on a couch or in a chair.

How does a doctor evaluate what’s wrong with a neck?

A chiropractic physician specializes in the structure and biomechanics of the spine. When a patient comes into a chiropractic clinic with complaints of neck pain, the doctor will do a complete history to understand the mechanism of the injury or complaint. The doctor will check your range of motion to determine any significant loss of function, and a thorough examination will include imaging studies to understand what is causing your pain. The typical senior patient that is experiencing neck pain often has a combination of cervical spine misalignment, osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease.

What’s the best treatment for neck pain?

A recent neck pain study, published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, found that chiropractic care or simple exercises done at home were better at reducing pain than taking medications like aspirin, ibuprofen or narcotics. The article concluded that “for patients with acute and sub-acute neck pain, spinal manipulative therapy was more effective than medication in both the short and long term.”

Chiropractors specialize in the biomechanics and alignment of your cervical spine. The vast majority of patients that are experiencing neck pain will benefit most with conservative chiropractic management.

Dr. Brue is an author, lecturer and chiropractic provider in SaddleBrooke.