Last month, I talked about your feet and the pain you might be having; this month, I’m going to address the other end of your body – your neck. We are always asked: What can I do about the pain in my neck?
Let’s talk about the pain in your neck – and no! I’m not talking about that thing that your partner does that drives you batty or your kid constantly banging his pencil on the table.
I’m talking about the literal pain in your neck that might cause numbness in your arm or hand, limited mobility and range of motions, or headaches.
Have you ever noticed that you have pain and/or numbness in your chest, armpit, arm or hand? Are you prone to getting headaches that don’t seem linked to the constant loudness that may or may not be your household?
Have you been dealing with burning across your neck and shoulder blades?
Has this pain/numbness kept you from playing with the kids outside?
Has it kept you from completing your daily chores or trying new adventures?
If any of this sounds all too familiar, let me start off with the most important thing – you are not alone! This is not just happening to you. And, while I don’t want to make you feel less special, this IS NOT some rare bird that no one has ever discovered or treated before.
Let’s address the pain and numbness you might be having your arm and hand:
I’ve found over the years that the pain/numbness in the arm and hand often results from something that’s gone awry in your neck – even if there isn’t actual pain in your neck!
You might be thinking, “How in the heck can the pain/numbness in my arm come from my neck when I’ve had no pain there?”
It does seem odd that the area causing the pain is not actually painful – until you understand why and what’s really happening in the body!
What Is Causing The Pain In My Neck?
I’m sure you’re aware that your spinal cord is attached to your brain and runs down the middle of your back, protected by bony segments.
Off the spinal cord to the left and right come nerves that run down the arms and hands and helps the muscles control movement and detect sensations.
When there is pressure on the spinal cord, this causes the nerves below the area of compression to go “haywire.” Depending on which nerve level becomes compressed, you might have pain, numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in the muscles controlled by the nerve in question.
There is often little to no pain at the compression site while the symptoms are in the arm/hand, etc. However, when pressure is taken off that compressed nerve, the shoulder, arm, and hand symptoms decrease. Still, people have found that suddenly they DO have pain in the neck! So, what’s all that about?
Despite what you might think, this “neck pain” is actually a good sign! This means that compression on the nerve is decreasing, and the pain can eventually resolve if appropriately treated (Read on, I’ll talk more about this later)!
Another common word I hear when it comes to issues with the neck – HEADACHES.
Neck Pain And Headaches: What’s The Connection?
Oh yes, the dreaded headache. It’s got you reaching for the aspirin bottle more than you would like. While stress and constant loud chaos definitely might be the cause of some headaches, it is more likely it’s the result of a condition known as “muscle imbalance.”
This can also cause burning between your shoulder blades and neck stiffness (I’ll dig more into neck stiffness a little further down).
Let’s discuss this condition known as “Muscle Imbalance.”
Muscle imbalance is simply when one set of muscles are weaker, stronger, tighter or looser than the opposing group of muscles in the body.
Muscle imbalance in the neck region occurs when the muscles across your chest (and in the back of your head) are too tight. In contrast, the muscles across your upper back, between the shoulder blades, and in front of the neck can be too long, and thus too weak.
One of the most common causes of muscle imbalance that I’ve seen is the direct result of poor posture while sitting—sitting for long periods of time in front of a computer at work, sitting studying over books, or sitting watching that same episode of TV over and over (Of this I myself, may or may not be guilty).
Pain Caused By Sitting Down
During Covid, while so many people were sitting at home, we noticed this being a growing trend. There was an increase of people sitting at their kitchen table, hunched over working on a laptop. (This is why I created a simple guide on How To Monitor Your Computer Health- click here to receive your copy!)
Prolonged sitting causes your back to round, making the muscles between your shoulder blades, in front of your neck, and across the top of your shoulder too long.
This causes the muscles to spasm to protect themselves from lengthening further, which causes the burning between your shoulder blades. The rounding of your back during prolonged sitting also causes your head and chin to “drift” forward, shortening the muscles in the back of your neck.
As the muscles in the back of your neck become shortened and too tight, they end up squeezing the nerve in the back of your head and neck, which results in headaches.
The headaches associated with this issue are usually located in the back of the head at the base of the skull. They can travel around to the top of the head and behind the eyes, also known as sub-occipital headaches.
I’d like to point out that while proper posture while sitting and working at a computer – well, good posture in just about any aspect of your life – is super helpful to counteract any muscle imbalances.
It usually takes more work to level out those imbalances, decompress any pinched nerves, and strengthen and stretch any affected muscles.
Before I move on to the next common issue when it comes to the neck – I feel like now might be a good time to mention that Physical Therapy is a HUGE help to correcting, healing and combatting these issues.
Most of the injuries are not something you can fix on your own! You need a team in your corner, and a Physical Therapist should be just that teammate!
Here at Cardin & Miller Physical Therapy, we work with you specifically to figure out the best course of action to combat the ailments keeping you from doing the things you need, want, and love to do!
Together we knock that pain right out of the park(Please excuse the baseball pun, but it IS currently the season, though)!
Let’s talk about another of the most common issues in this part of the body – Neck Stiffness.
Pain In The Neck: Neck Stiffness
I feel like this is the hardest of the neck ailments to sort of just glance over. It’s hard to pretend everything’s fine when you can’t turn your neck to look in your blind spot while driving, or when it’s so stiff you can’t find a comfortable position to sleep through the night.
I also think it’s one of the hardest to “work out.”
I’ve found that neck stiffness can be a bit “sneaky.” I say this because many times, the muscles surrounding the neck become tight gradually. Still, sometimes this occurs overnight when sleeping in a bad position or from something you did the day before.
Suddenly, you realize that you cannot turn your head to see who’s coming up beside you at the grocery store. You end up having to turn your entire body so that your neck does not have to move, just to see who got that close.
As the muscles surrounding the neck become stiffer and more restricted, they become inflamed and painful. This primarily occurs at night because less oxygenated blood travels to the muscles as your body lays down to rest.
This results in an increase in tightness and stiffness of the muscles, which leads to a night of restless sleep and waking up a bunch of times throughout the night because of the pain. And we all know what the end result of lack of sleep is – grumpiness. And no one likes a Grumpy Gus!
Besides the loss of sleep, and the ability to turn your head, stiffness of the neck also limits your ability to look up and down. It can lead to neck and radiating arm pain and/or headaches if it is not dealt with and resolved. YIKES!!
Sleeping on your stomach in bed is also a contributing factor to neck stiffness and pain. It requires you to lie with your head turned to one side or another for long periods of time, which places excess pressure on the spine and joints.
One of the best pieces of wisdom I can give: If you start to notice that you are having some difficulty turning your head while driving, to see who’s behind you or beside you – seek the help of an expert RIGHT AWAY!
The sooner you start getting treatment for the issue, the easier and quicker it will resolve!
Now that I’ve listed some of the reasons why you might be having neck issues, I’ll answer the question you have: “What can I do about it.”
What Can I Do About The Pain In My Neck?
The best way to get rid of your neck pain, stiffness, and arm numbness is to work with a Physical Therapist. These therapists are trained in proper movement functions. They know precisely how to get your mobility to the level it needs to be, to not only get rid of the pain, but to get rid of the root issue causing the problems!
When you schedule an appointment with an expert Physical Therapist, they evaluate your movements, or lack thereof, and all the symptoms you are having.
Then they will begin with joint mobilization techniques to loosen up the neck joints, stretching exercises to loosen up the tight muscles that are pulling things out of place, and strengthening the loose muscles that are not holding things in place.
They work with you to develop a specific plan catered to the exact needs of your injury. They will also work on retraining your movements, so you will begin to move correctly and eliminate the problem for good!
So, what if you read all the way to here and you’re still not sure what to do?
Well, let me tell you my recommendation:
Call us today to schedule your 1-on-1 Free Screen visit, where you can sit down with one of our expert Physical Therapists, tell them what’s going on, ask them some questions, and get some advice from a trained professional about what the next step in your journey FOR FREE!
Or visit our physical therapy website to find out more information about what can be done for your neck pain! We’ll make that question – what can I do about the pain in my neck – redundant and get you back to health quickly and efficiently.