Neck pain is one of the most common complaints patients have when they come to a chiropractic office for the first time, second only to low back pain. Neck pain affects all of us at some point in life, and for some, it can become a chronic, permanent problem that can interfere with many desired activities and lower their quality of life. There are many different causes, and prompt evaluation and treatment is important in some cases.
Neck pain and stiffness are the two most common symptoms that present for evaluation and treatment. This can be located in the middle of the neck and/or on either side and can extend down to the shoulders and/or chest. It can contribute to or cause tension headaches that can travel up the back of the head and sometimes behind the eyes. Pain often increases with neck movement, such as when turning the head to check traffic while driving and/or it can hurt at rest while held in static positions, such as when reading a book. Neck pain can come on gradually or quickly and often cannot be traced to a specific injury or cause making it a challenge to figure out. While neck pain is often not serious or life-threatening, there are causes that should be evaluated promptly. If you wake up with acute neck pain associated with very limited range of motion, this may be due to torticollis, or wry neck, and prompt treatment helps it resolve more quickly than “waiting it out.” Torticollis can be caused by exposure to a draft, changes in weather, trauma, or after a cold or flu. When in doubt, come in for an evaluation and treatment, as anxiety associated with the “fear of the unknown” only adds to the stress associated with neck pain and it’s ALWAYS best to be “…safe than sorry!”
Numbness or tingling may accompany neck pain and can be located in the face, arms, hands, and/or fingers. This is one of those times to come in promptly, as these symptoms may indicate the pinching of a nerve root in the neck. There are MANY chiropractic treatment approaches that effectively treat nerve root pinching, and treatment should NOT be delayed. Other common symptoms may include clicking, crunching, or grinding noises, technically called crepitus, which may or may not be benign. If the noise is accompanied by pain, especially if it radiates down to the shoulder blades or arms (either side or both), it’s time to promptly come in. Any time symptoms occur acutely or come on fast, it’s best to get evaluated as soon as possible.
Dizziness is another common symptom that can result from neck problems and is often associated with movement such as rising from laying or sitting. Certain positions of the neck can also bring on dizziness. This is sometimes caused by the “stones” in the inner ear shifting out of position and is technically called BPPV or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo. When this occurs, we can usually manage it very well with treatment and specific BPPV exercises. Other times, dizziness may be due to a restriction in blood flow reaching the brain. In which case, a prompt evaluation is VERY appropriate, especially if blackouts occur.
Sleep interruption or difficulty falling asleep are other good reasons to seek prompt evaluation and treatment. Sleep loss can lead to many problems such as excessive fatigue, tiredness, irritability, and just generally feeling poor! Remember, prompt care usually results in prompt resolution!