What Causes Neck Pain?
Your head is heavy and balanced on a narrow support made up of seven bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated from each other by discs stabilised by joints and ligaments and moved by muscles. Because the neck is so mobile it is easily damaged. Injury and postural problems are the most common causes of neck pain. Diseases such as arthritis or degeneration of the discs can also cause pain. A disorder of the neck joints or muscles can cause referral pain to your head, shoulders, arms and upper back.
Neck injuries most often result from motor vehicle accidents, sports or occupational accidents. Damage may occur to vertebrae, joints and nerves, discs, ligaments and muscles. A common neck injury is the acceleration/deceleration injury or ‘whiplash’ where the head is thrown forward or back.
Bad posture can cause neck pain. Ligaments are over-stretched, muscles become tired and the neck joints and nerves are put under pressure. Slouching your shoulders with your head pushed forward, sleeping with your head in an awkward position, or working with your head down for long periods, will all tend to cause neck pain.
PREVENTING NECK PAIN
Here is some useful advice to help you prevent neck pain.
Think Tall: chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, chin tucked in and head level. Your neck should feel strong, straight and relaxed.
A down pillow or urethane pillow is best for most people. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.
Recognise when you are tense. You may be hunching your shoulders or clenching your teeth without realising it.
HOW PHYSIOTHERAPISTS CAN HELP
Physiotherapists will be able to determine the source of your neck pain and treat it. They may use:
- remedial exercise
- postural assessment, correction and advice
- relaxation therapy
Manipulation can be an effective treatment for neck problems, but it may not be the best option in every situation. Other methods, such as mobilisation, may be preferable. Your physiotherapist will carefully check your neck and discuss the options with you before any form of treatment takes place.
What Causes Back Pain?
Poor posture stresses your spine. Ligaments are overstretched, muscles tire and joints and nerves are put under pressure.
Minor back muscle strains quickly improve on their own, but more severe strains will need physiotherapy treatment to relieve pain and promote healing.
Stretching ligaments too far or too quickly makes them tear and bleed into surrounding issues, causing swelling and pain. Motor vehicle and sporting accidents are common causes.
Discs are anchored to the vertebrae above and below, so they cannot ‘slip’ out of place. They can wear down with age, but most disc problems arise from injury. Discs can bulge (prolapse), hermiate or even rupture.
The sciatic nerves run from the lower back through the buttons and down the back of your legs. Irritation anywhere along this pathway will cause pain in the back and legs.
Vertebral and facet joints can be affected by arthritis, causing degeneration and inflammation within the join and the growth of bony spurs on the edges of the vertebrae.
PREVENTING BACK PAIN
Here is some useful advice to help you prevent back pain.
With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the hips and knee. Grip the load firmly and hold it close to your body, tighten your stomach muscles and use the strong muscles of your legs to lift. Keep your back as straight as possible. Avoid twisting – turn by using your feet, not your back.
Don’t stay seated for too long – stand up, stretch and walk around. The right back support will also help.
Good support from your car seat will prevent back pain. If you need more lower back support, use a lumbar roll or a rolled-up towel.
HOW PHYSIOTHERAPISTS CAN HELP
- mobilisation/manipulative physiotherapy
- McKenzie therapy
- specific stabilisation exercises
- general exercises
- ergonomic advice
Ongoing ‘maintenance treatments’ should not be required once your back has been successfully treated by a physiotherapist. If severe pain persists. other causes will need to be investigated. Your physiotherapist can order x-rays or refer you to see a doctor or specialist.