Chronic Neck Pain: Is There Relief?

by admin on December 19, 2013

According to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) 40% of Americans feel that some form of continual pain is merely a part of aging, and that half of Americans believe pain to be “part of life”. Medication is not fully trusted, since 30% say that the fear of addiction is greater than the fear of continued pain – and twice as many wouldn’t communicate the pain to a medical professional. Amazingly, one out of every three Americans experiences chronic neck pain, with many deciding not to take a course of action.

Types of Neck Pain

Neck pains come with a dizzying number of cohorts, since the neck is the go-between for the head and the body – so pain can come from either end. Some serious diseases, such as meningitis, begin as neck pain. Migraine sufferers sometimes complain of ‘sinus headaches’ and chronic neck pain, so that treatments are delayed.

Neck pain also combines with vertigo, lymph node swelling, and even pains shooting down the arm, so that it’s hard to distinguish when a sufferer ‘just’ has chronic neck pain and when a heart attack is happening. Pinched nerves and back pain can mean just that, or kidney failure. Many of those suffering from auto-immune diseases, such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, complain of chronic neck pain due to muscle issues.

Common Causes

Calling work-related pain “musculoskeletal disorders”, a 2008 study posted by the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association said that there is certainly a common link between computer use and chronic neck pain. While the numbers seemed to fluctuate around 20% to 30% of all computer users, the study was unclear as to the exact causes. Posture played a part, having to stay stationary at a desk was another factor, and poor ergonomic design may have contributed significantly. Office workers seemed to suffer the most, and numbers shifted dramatically into the 45% to 63% range. More pain was linked to a combination of work sitting and leisure sitting, while it seemed clear that movement in off-hours helped to mitigate the “occupational risk factor” of being bound to the computer.

(According to the same study, it’s not just Americans who suffer. A significant part of the $860 million spent in the Netherlands on sick leave, disability and low productivity was blamed on the neck-and-shoulders region.)

Minimizing Risk

Some of the more obvious solutions, as posted by the AOA, might be what mothers have been telling their children for years. Sit up straight. Do stretches slowly, you’re not in a race. Stand tall. If it hurts, slap an ice pack on it (or a heating pad). Don’t hunch over your computer.

It is over the course of years that risk tends to pile up. Everyday Health pointed out that all of these factors are legitimate (especially poor posture). All mothers may not know, however, that the spinal discs cushioning vertebrae and keeping them from wearing each other out, can slip or wear out themselves. That’s when the real issues begin. Bony spurs grind down on nerves, and the pain cycle starts. Fortunately, the article pointed out a doctor’s assurance that 90% of neck pain is quite treatable by a mixture of exercise, rest and physical therapy.

Common Types of Treatment

Rest can include anti-inflammatory medication, which can be purchased quite easily without a prescription. Ibuprofen, Aleve, Tylenol, Advil, and Motrin are still top sellers. Unfortunately, Consumer Reports says that while Ibuprofen and Aleve can be effective at an affordable price, studies seem to indicate that these “nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs” put people at risk for contracting heart issues if overused. In any case, chronic neck pain may not be effectively dealt with merely by taking pain medication. Consumer Reports added that prescription medications didn’t seem to help people gain any better hold over chronic pain issues, but elevated the risk for addiction, vertigo, and exhaustion issues.

Objection to pills and ‘chemicals’ can keep people from temporary relief, but there is chiropractic care and massage. ABC News ran a report in 2012 saying that exercise and chiropractic care was up to twice as effective as just medication – 30% of sufferers said they had become “pain free”. However, the BBC disagreed, saying in June 2012 that “spine manipulation” could also lead to a low-level stroke because of physical damage done to neck arteries during adjustment. The key to the study was high-speed, twisting motions that some chiropractors have abandoned in their practices, preferring muscle relaxation prior to adjustment.

Alternative treatments for chronic neck pain are also gaining popularity and have proven to be effective for many. An example is the MELT method which is a form of self-therapy using tissue massage and stretching. For further information, you may refer to our review on this type of treatment:

Medical Dealings with Chronic Neck Pain

More intense chronic neck pain can be linked to serious health issues, such as ‘frozen shoulder’, pinched nerves due to spinal damage from whiplash, old collar bone fractures, tendonitis, or various types of degenerative muscular disease.

In these cases, the big medical guns have to come out, because none of these are well treated by a few pills or adjustments. As pointed out by WebMD, x-rays can show slipped spinal discs or fractures, possible tumors or other unknown quantities, and the effects of arthritis. For muscle issues that can’t be seen on x-ray, there’s always an MRI scan or an EMG. Steroid and cortisol injections are sometimes prescribed, and surgery in extreme cases.

Chronic neck pain can be a symptom of itself or something much deeper, which makes causes and cures rather difficult to define. When in doubt, it’s best to ask a professional about that old tennis shoulder injury, or the car accident from 10 years ago, rather than just buying another bottle of Ibuprofen. You can always buy it after an appointment with your doctor, or after seeing a demonstration of a Jacuzzi tub. It could be an investment in your health.

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