Neck pain or stiff neck is common problem and generally nothing to worry about. Most of us have experienced this at some stage in our lives, either waking up with a stiffened painful neck or following a sudden movement. A stiff neck is often caused by muscular imbalance in the neck due to poor sitting posture, repetitive unaccustomed neck movements (golf, tennis, weight-lifting) and unusual sleep positions that we may adopt. Anxiety and stress can also cause tension in the neck muscles, which can lead to pain in your neck.
Osteopathic treatment can help alleviate the symptoms of a stiff neck through a series of gentle stretches and soft tissue massage to relax the muscles in spasm.
The neck is susceptible to general ‘wear and tear’ as a result of poor posture as we get older. Wear and tear, known as osteoarthritis or‘degeneration’ can cause localised pain and increased likelihood of trapped nerves. These are particularly common in the 30-50 age group.
A slipped disc (disc prolapse) in the neck can be a cause of neck and arm pain. While it is not as common as a herniated disc in the low back, it is still fairly common.
Patients with a slipped disc in the neck will experience severe pain, which can be present in the neck, shoulder and down the arm. This pain can be exacerbated by neck movements and even by coughing or sneezing. Muscle spasm in the neck is common.
Osteopathic treatment techniques can help by gently mobilising the vertebra to help restore normal neck movement. Acupuncture and ultrasound can be used to reduce the pain.
‘Traction’ is a very effective treatment for neck and arm pain. Surgery should be considered in cases where there is intractable pain that is affecting quality of life.
Whiplash-associated disorders (whiplash)
Whiplash and whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) represent a range of injuries to the neck caused by or related to a sudden distortion of the neck. Whiplash is commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, usually when the vehicle has been hit in the rear; however, the injury can be sustained in many other ways, including sport injury or falls.
The symptoms of whiplash include a stiff and painful neck that may only develop several hours after the collision and can be accompanied by headaches, dizziness and blurred vision or pain on swallowing.
Turning or bending the neck may be difficult. You may also feel pain or stiffness in the shoulders or down the arms. More serious symptoms of a severe pain at the back of the neck, memory loss or unconsciousness require immediate medical attention. Cold therapy and anti-inflammatories are suggested in the first 24-48 hours. After this, soft tissue massage, stretching and manipulation by an Osteopath can help to reduce the symptoms of whiplash.