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Neck & Upper Back Pain

Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, chiropractic subluxations, stress, and in some instances, disc problems.

Injuries
By far, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury. Whiplash is caused by a sudden movement of the head backward, forward, or sideways, that results in damage to the supporting muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back. Whether from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, whiplash injuries need to be taken very seriously. Symptoms of a whiplash injury can take weeks or months to manifest, so it is easy to be fooled into thinking that you are not as injured as you really are. Too often people don’t seek treatment following a car accident or sports injury because they don’t feel hurt. Unfortunately, by the time more serious complications develop, some of the damage from the injury may have become permanent. Numerous studies have shown that years after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, roughly half of them state that they still suffer with symptoms from their injuries. If you have been in a motor vehicle or any other kind of accident, don’t assume that you escaped injury if you are not currently in pain. You should get checked out by a chiropractor with experience treating these kinds of injuries.

Poor Posture
One of the most common causes of neck pain, and sometimes headaches, is poor posture. It’s easy to get into bad posture habits without even realizing it – even an activity as “innocent” as reading in bed can ultimately lead to pain, headaches, and more serious problems. The basic rule is simple: keep your neck in a “neutral” position whenever possible. Don’t bend or hunch your neck forward for long periods. Also, try not to sit in one position for a long time. If you must sit for an extended period, make sure your posture is good: Keep your head in a neutral position, make sure your back is supported, keep your knees slightly lower than your hips, and rest your arms if possible.

Subluxations
Subluxations in the neck and upper back area are extremely common due to the high degree of stress associated with holding up your head, coupled with the high degree of instability in the cervical spine. Most subluxations tend to be centered around four areas: the top of the cervical spine where it meets the skull; in the middle of the cervical spine where the mechanical stress from the head is the greatest; in the transition where the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine meet; and in the middle of the thoracic spine where the mechanical stress from the weight of the upper body is greatest. Signs of subluxation include looking in the mirror and seeing your head tilted or one shoulder higher than the other. Often women will notice that their sleeve length is different or that a necklace is hanging off center. If someone looks at you from the side they may notice that your head sits forward from your shoulders. This is known as FHP – forward head posture – and is very common for people who are stooped over their computers all day long. If any of these scenarios describes you make an appointment with your chiropractor today.

Stress
When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles. In particular, the muscles in their upper back and neck. For most of us, the particular muscle affected by stress is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points. Chronic tension in the trapezius and posterior cervical muscles can lead to muscle tension headaches mainly in the back of the head and sometimes radiating into the temples.  Chiropractic manipulation can be very effective in the treatment of chronic muscle tension and the resulting headaches.

Two effective ways you can reduce the physical effects of stress on your own are to increase your activity level by exercising or at the very least starting a stretching regimen. When you decrease the physical effects of stress, you can substantially reduce the amount of tightness and pain in your upper back and neck.

Disc Herniations
The discs in your cervical spine can herniate or bulge and put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. Although cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as lumbar discs do, they occasionally can herniate, especially when the discs sustain damage from a whiplash injury. Disc herniations can create pain and/or sensation deficits (tingling or numbness) down the arms and into the fingers.