Neck Pain

Neck pain is one of the most common issues seen in those aged 40-70 and one of the most common conditions treated successfully by osteopaths. Neck pain has a myriad of causes and can last from a few days to a few years if not treated and managed correctly.

The neck or cervical spine consists of 7 vertebrae that should all move together to have full, pain free range of movement. If one or more of the vertebrae are not moving as well as they should (known as osteopathic somatic dysfunction) then this can lead to pain, discomfort, or the feeling of needing to ‘click’ your neck! Muscles of the neck include the trapezius, cervical erector spinae, scalenes and levator scapulae. It is common with neck pain that all of these are affected and can feel tight, causing pain and restricting movement. Another common issue, especially with the neck is self-manipulation. Cracking or clicking your own neck can lead to minor instant relief but may cause more issues in the long term, by causing certain segments to become ‘hyper’ or ‘hypo’ mobile. This occurs when the most mobile segment is ‘cavitated’, rather than the ‘stuck’ or ‘restricted’ (the one you want to click) segment is manipulated. Repetitive clicking over time can lead to a ‘dependence’ to feel relief and is something that should be left to the professionals who are able to specify which segment they manipulate to provide relief.

Types of neck pain

Neck pain can often be ‘acute’. This is when the onset of pain is sudden and unexpected. This can be caused by lifting weights with poor form, sleeping awkwardly or due to a trauma of some sort, eg playing rugby. Acute neck pain is often caused by the muscles being tight or strained.

Chronic neck pain, is neck pain that has been around for more than 12 weeks. Common causes of this include spinal spondylosis. This is generally known as wear and tear to the neck, where degenerative bony changes occur, with the thickening of ligaments and narrowing of spinal foramen occur. This can put pressure on the nerves and surrounding structures and cause muscles to become tight and the neck to feel stiff and restricted.

Where do osteopaths come in?

Osteopaths will spend time assessing the neck, looking at the quality of movement from each segment actively with simple head movement. By using touch, the tone of the muscles and how the different structures feel when moved around passively will also be assessed.

After a diagnosis of either acute or chronic neck pain, the osteopath will use techniques such as spinal articulation, mobilisation, and manipulation along with soft tissue massage in order to work on the structures of the neck.  Each technique on their own will give some short-term relief, however when used together, the techniques will provide lasting relief for the patient who will then be able to go back to living their lives without pain and discomfort.

Acute neck pain can take anywhere from 1-5 sessions to get rid of, with often instantaneous results being felt. Chronic neck pain generally takes longer to feel a considerable difference, with 6-12 sessions being needed for major improvements and significant pain relief.

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