Waking up with a crick in your neck can ruin your day. It severely hinders your movement and makes normal, day-to-day tasks impossible. Neck stiffness can even make driving out the question, which for many people makes getting to and from work unrealistic. Sometimes the excruciating pain makes any movement unfeasible.
Neck pain and stiffness commonly occur together, but you can experience one without the other. Chronic neck cricks, even without pain, are more than just a nuisance. Stress in the upper cervical spine can lead to headache pain or numbness through the face and arms.1 When there’s no apparent cause, your doctor might suggest practicing good posture and a different sleep position to clear things up. Often, they will blame your smartphone use.
If you’re suffering from a persistent crick in the neck, chiropractic care can offer relief. There is no reason to suffer through it alone! It’s essential to seek the help you need before things get worse. Here’s what to expect from a visit with the chiropractor:
Chiropractors can treat symptoms without pain medication
Many people worry about the long term effects of ibuprofen, such as stomach bleeding and increased risk of heart attack or stroke.2 Chiropractic manipulation has shown to be as effective as NSAIDs in treating spinal pain.3 Although opioids are sometimes prescribed for severe pain, many patients opt to treat the problem before they treat symptoms because of the very real risk of opioid dependence when these medications are used to treat chronic pain.4
On your first visit, your chiropractor will do a physical examination to determine how your mobility is affected. A neurological exam will show if your reflexes or strength have diminished. The chiropractor might order diagnostic imaging to get an unobstructed view of what’s causing your symptoms.5 Herniated discs and pinched nerves can be hard to diagnose without these tools. Once the chiropractor has determined the source of the pain, they can develop a treatment plan. If they believe you need to see a doctor, they will let you know. On rare occasions, surgery may be necessary to correct your problem.
Most commonly, however, your chiropractor will be able to do hands-on treatment that helps relieve your neck pain. By manipulating your spine, the chiropractor can relieve stiffness in your joints. This can help with pain caused by a pinched nerve or a muscle spasm.
Treatment is more than adjustments
While a manual adjustment can provide much-needed relief, it is not always the best method for intervention. If the chiropractor thinks a manual adjustment will make the problem worse, they might use more precise instrumental adjustments.
If there's any risk of further injury, they will try other techniques and studiously avoid these potential issues. These alternative techniques can provide relief, either instead of, or in conjunction with, manipulation techniques. For instance, a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit could be used to provide electrostimulation to tense areas to block pain receptors and release pain-killing endorphins. Ultrasound therapy might be used to create sound waves for deep tissue heat therapy that increases blood flow to sprained areas to accelerate healing. These treatments have proven effective in various forms of pain management therapies.6
Many chiropractors work in conjunction with a massage therapist to relieve muscle tension exacerbating the problem. Adjustments focus on the spine and joints, while massage focuses on muscles. This can help make the adjustments work more effectively. The two treatments combined are better able to address the problems that cause pain.
Continued examinations throughout the treatment will be used to compare to the initial assessment. Measuring the improvement will help your provider determine if your treatment plan is working and allow them to make changes as needed. Communication is essential here! You need to let your chiropractor know right away if the pain gets worse. You aren’t making progress if you aren’t feeling better.7
Making changes at home
Your chiropractor will also advise you on lifestyle changes to help get at the root of the problem. If you spend long periods of time at a desk, more breaks might be in order. Changes in diet and increases in daily water intake can help your overall health, but they can also directly address the problem.8 Carrying excess weight is hard on your spine, and a good diet and proper hydration will help you lose weight and relieve the extra stress on your body.
Smoking and drinking excessive alcohol is bad for your overall bone health, as well as contributing to obesity. People already suffering from pain in their spine are urged to quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.9 If you are struggling with nicotine addiction, alternative treatments - such as hypnotherapy for smoking cessation - can be incredibly helpful.
Your chiropractor will go over different stretches and exercises for you to do at home between visits. As your range of motion increases, they will modify the exercises to increase the benefit. The goal is to help strengthen the support muscles that keep your spinal cord stable. Developing your overall core strength will help take the load off your neck and shoulder muscles. It will also help you maintain the mobility you need throughout your life to prevent further injury and osteoporosis.10
Sticking with your treatment plan is important for your pain management. By applying the things you’ve learned about your body to your daily routine, your time with the chiropractor can give you lifelong benefits without a lifelong commitment to ongoing medical treatment.
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2Benefits and risks of Pain Relievers:A Q & A on NSAIDs with Sharon Hertx, M.D.https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/benefits-and-risks-pain-relievers-q-nsaids-sharon-hertz-md
3“A risk assessment of cervical manipulation vs. NSAIDs for the treatment of neck pain.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8583176
4"Pain and Opioid Addiction: A Systematic Review and Evaluation of Pain Measurement in Patients with Opioid Dependence on Methadone Maintenance Treatment.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27021147
5“Neck Care and Chiropractic”https://www.acatoday.org/patients/health-wellness-information/neck-pain-and-chiropractic
6Effectiveness of diathermy in comparison with ultrasound or corticosteroids in patients with tendinopathy: a critically appraised topic.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18496246
7”Evidence-Based Practice and Chiropractic care”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716373/
8“Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Try For Neck Pain”https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/anti-inflammatory-foods-try-neck-pain
9“Smoking and Bone Health”https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/osteoporosis/conditions-behaviors/bone-smoking
10“Neck Pain: Core Exercises Can Help”https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/neck-pain-core-exercises-can-help