Neck aches, pain, and stiffness, with or without headaches are something we all suffer with from time to time. Such annoyances are often brought on by overwork or holding the head in an awkward position, such as sleeping upright in a chair.

Recurring aches, pains and stiffness of the neck, or discomfort that lasts more than 24 hours, however are different and should have professional evaluation. Persistent pain in the neck is a symptom of something gone wrong. Repeated episodes of stiff neck may indicate early stages of joint or disc degeneration.

The neck (cervical spine) contains the upper portion of the spinal cord and eight pairs of spinal nerves. The nerves of the cervical spine, which are “pinched,” or have pressure on them, can produce symptoms in various parts of the body. For example, pain between the shoulder blades and some arm complaints often originate in the neck.

In addition to pain and stiffness, symptoms that may be caused by problems in the cervical (neck) spine can include: headache; migraines; dizziness; pain in the face, ears and sinuses; pain in the shoulder-arm-hand; numbness and tingling in one or more of the fingers; throat discomfort; difficulty in breathing; and chest pains, to name some of the more common complaints. The neck is the most vulnerable part of the spinal column, subject to all sorts of major and minor injuries. It is composed of seven small bones (vertebrae) and supported by only muscles and ligaments, which must hold and balance a head, which weighs approximately 14 pounds, equal to a bowling ball.

The neck is very susceptible to stresses and strains from any source and will often react violently to seemingly insignificant falls or accidents. According to some authorities, the neck is strained more frequently than any other structure in the body and it reacts with pain and eventually if not corrected degeneration and decay.


  1. Bad posture-abnormal forward head posture (very common)
  2. Overwork-continuing to work beyond endurance.
  3. Muscular weakness.
  4. Nervous and emotional tension.
  5. Underlying disease, such as arthritis.
  6. Accidents, falls or automobile “whiplash” injuries (very common)
  7. Sports injuries
  8. Old injuries suffered as infant or child and not corrected.
  9. Poor sleeping or awkward working positions
  10. Sitting for long periods over a computer.
  11. Many more uncommon cases.

The type of discomfort or pattern of pain sometimes serves as a clue to what is wrong.

For example:

  1. A neck that is relatively pain-free in the morning and worsens as the day goes on frequently indicates strain, fatigue or muscular weakness, and likely misalignment (subluxation).
  2. A neck that is stiff and painful in the morning and feels better as the day goes on may indicate some underlying condition such as arthritis or likely chronic (long term) misalignment (subluxation).
  3. Neck pain that is aggravated by coughing or sneezing may indicate a disc problem and misalignment. Dizziness, light-headedness, or pain that develops when the head is turned or elevated, is evidence of a possible vascular problem. However, symptoms of light-headedness, vertigo, unsteadiness, weakness, and difficulty with balance also can often be caused by an imbalance in the cervical (neck) spine, or again misalignment or subluxation. These symptoms when properly evaluated will determine the need for additional testing, referral, or the appropriateness of Chiropractic conservative care.

Allow your Doctor of Chiropractic to determine what your needs are. His or her training will determine if you need additional specialized examination procedures such as MRI, CT scan, EMG, Ultrasound or other specific testing to confirm the exact nature of your neck problem. In most cases a thorough exam and possibly x-rays will determine the cause of the problem

Too often, a patient considers repeated episodes of a stiff neck as something very minor and expects one office visit to correct the entire problem. Sometimes this may be true, but more often and realistically the cause of the discomfort may require additional care and follow-up. Realistic expectations are important; it may take time because healing is a process not an event, but be assured the great majority of cervical spine (neck) cases are correctable.

Management of the overall problem of the neck disorder should be supervised by your Chiropractor. The care of structural defects, a disease process, cervical instability, etc., requires professional evaluation and supervision by your Chiropractor. This cannot be over-emphasized!

In addition to treatment for the specific condition, your doctor of Chiropractic may recommend exercises to restore normal range of motion or to over come muscular weakness, which can cause neck pain. Proper exercise may greatly help to alleviate aches, pains, tensions, and nerve irritations that may have developed as a result of strain, disease, injuries, or lack of use.

Weak muscles must struggle to get a person through the day, while well-toned muscles allow one to work and play without tiring. Exercising will develop more efficient muscles by improving tone and strengthening the muscles connected to the cervical spine. Ask your doctor of Chiropractic about specific muscle strengthening exercises, and if they are appropriate for your case.

Range of motion exercises, while not designed to strengthen muscles, are an excellent means of helping to restore the normal motion to the joints of the cervical spine. This is especially important if an arthritic type condition is present.

The key to joint function and a pain free neck is mobility, flexibility, strength and above all proper pain free alignment.

Once your neck problem has been brought under control, it is up to you to follow your Doctor of Chiropractic’s advice on how to avoid further strain and acquire a stronger neck, and remain well and pain free.



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