For many people the neck is a very personal area and so when something goes wrong it can be quite worrying.
The neck is a complicated structure where a variety of issues can occur, some more common than others.
I’ll go through the most common neck presentations that we see here in North Finchley with the most common first followed by the least common.
Muscle Spasm or Cricked Neck
Most of the time people wake up with a painful of locked up neck for no apparent reason. A bad night’s sleep in a draft or on a bad pillow can be all it takes to wake up with your neck as stiff as a board, even if nothing seems to be different to any other night. From our experience it seems to be that quite often people have done an increased amount of activity leading up to the neck locking up; gardening, moving house, painting and decorating, or driving a long distance and back are just some of the things people seem to have done leading up to their neck going wrong.
This problem will result in a very reduced range of movement, preventing you from turning your head very far to either side and therefore in order for you to be able to look in either direction will require you to turn your whole body, much to the amusement of those around you, despite not being a laughing matter to you in the slightest.
So What’s Going On?
When the muscles in the neck spasm it is the body’s way of protecting that area. The muscles have had an increased workload put on them and they have become fatigued. Eventually a small movement or position is too much for the muscle and it results in the muscle spasming or locking up in order to stop any further movement. It’s a bit like a horse all of a sudden deciding it doesn’t want to do any more work and digging its hooves into the ground and refusing to budge.
How Do We Treat A Neck Spasm/Cricked Neck?
In cases like this it seems that a more gentle approach is best. The muscles are already highly reactive and sensitive and so a deep, strong treatment only makes it worse.
The muscles around the site of neck pain have become shortened and locked at that length and so they need to be encouraged to release through some gentle massage work and gentle neck stretches by your practitioner.
In cases like this it is usually best not to have the neck adjusted (clicked) as this can cause further spasm. Traction of the neck however can provide some relief and allow some of the muscles to relax.
Facet Joint Compression
This is very similar to the neck spasm above and will often appear the same or have the same causes. The only difference here though is that one of the Facet Joints in the spinal part of the neck has become compressed and irritated. This irritation causes the nearby nerves to become inflamed and lead to muscle spasm.
A facet joint is where the adjacent vertebrae overlap and influence certain movements in that region.
How Do We Treat A Facet Joint Compression?
This is an injury caused by compression of the vertebrae which leads to spasm of the surrounding muscles. Based on this idea the muscles will further be compressing the neck. Therefore a good strategy is to apply traction on the neck. You practitioner can do this quite easily but you can also do this at home using a traction device found at Amazon.co.uk.
Facet joint compressions also respond well to neck adjustments. These will only be done though if the neck is movable enough and the muscles aren’t overly spasmed.
Intervertebral Disc Prolapse
Disc prolapses are not as common in the neck as they are in the lower back but we have seen several in clinical time.
Disc prolapses in the neck can cause pain in the neck and stiffness as well as pain referring into the shoulder or arm. This happens because material from the intervertebral disc may be pressing on a nerve root. It may also present with some numbness in the arm or weakness in the arm or hand.
How Do We Treat A Neck Disc Prolapse?
First of all if this is suspected, we usually advise you get an MRI to scan the neck to allow us to see how bad the prolapse may be and what structures may be affected.
More often than not if we suspect a disc prolapse we will work mainly on the surrounding muscles, dealing with any local spasm and provide some traction on the neck to restore the normal space between the vertebra. Without seeing an MRI report of the images themselves we will not manipulate the neck as this could exacerbate the problem.
Arthritic Changes and Other Complications
Due to the age group we mainly see here in North Finchley we don’t see too many patients with arthritic changes in their necks, or not the the full extent that is possible.
As we age our discs become more and more dehydrated and therefore flatter which leads to an approximation of the vertebrae. This causes boy contact which eventually leads to body deposits forming. Sometimes these bony formations can encroach on the spinal canal causing pressure on the spinal cord and thus leading to pain.
Treatment Of Arthritic Changes In The Neck
There is only a limited amount of success hands on treatment can have although in many patients this is often enough. Treatment aims to maintain movement in the spine and can help to sooth the pain. Long term treatment may include various forms of decompressive surgery.
Other issues may include Meningitis, Spinal Stenosis and Cervical Myelopathy.
Meningitis is the most common of these 3 issues and if you have neck pain alongside headaches it is advisable to get seen by us or your GP to rule out this possibility. Very often neck pain can cause headaches and headaches are not necessarily a cause for concern so there is no need to ring for an ambulance just yet. But signs to look out for are nausea, vomiting and fever. Rash, neck stiffness and a dislike for bright lights are also important signs and symptoms to look out for.
If you experience any of these then give us a call or call your GP or the NHS helpline for further advice.
Spinal Stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal which can lead to spinal cord compression. This in itself may not always lead to further symptoms but if it gets worse can lead to Cervical Myelopathy which is characterised by neck pain, pins and needles, weakness and clumsiness in the arms and legs. This should be checked by your GP, a neurological or orthopedic consultant.
What Should You Do Now?
If you are experiencing neck pain, the most likely outcome is a fairly common structural issue such as spasm or facet joint compression. Give us a call so we can discuss the best options for you and help to reassure you of the best course of action to take.
Call us today on 0203 356 7060.