Your neck is packed with bones (vertebrae), spinal cord, cranial and spinal nerves, nerve ganglions, blood vessels, glands, voice box (larynx), esophagus (food pipe) trachea (wind pipe) and muscles, ligaments, tendons and other structures. This amazing combination balances your heavy head and turns, tilts and bends without damaging its vital occupants.
The Cervical Spine
Your neck bones are called cervical vertebrae as cervix is the Latin word for neck. The seven neck bones are numbered from C-1 to C-7 from top to bottom. The C-1 vertebra is named the atlas, because, like Atlas in mythology, it balances a globe. C-2 is called the axis because it permits multiple neck movements. All the vertebrae work together to balance your head and protect your spinal cord, a continuation of your brain.
Your vertebrae are connected to each other by muscles, ligaments and gel-like pads called discs that help give the neck its curve (cervical lordosis). Between the vertebrae are openings called intervertebral foramina where nerves, blood vessels, lymphatic vessels and other tissues are found.
Cervical nerves can become irritated, inflamed or “pinched” causing head, neck, face, shoulder, elbow, arm, wrist, hand and finger pain; numbness; pins and needles; increased sensitivity or other symptoms. These symptoms “most frequently result from irritation of cervical nerve roots in the region of the intervertebral foramen” or pressure on nearby blood vessels or the spinal cord itself.[i] The most common cause of nerve, blood vessel and spinal cord pressure is a condition chiropractors call a vertebral subluxation, a slightly misaligned vertebrae causing nerve stress.
Is Your Head on Straight?
Let us suppose that one day you carried a bowling ball around for the entire day, but instead of carrying it closely at your side you held it a little distance from your body. You would get tired very fast! It’s the same with your head. If it’s properly balanced that’s fine, but if it’s held even a little off center you will start to suffer from fatigue as well as stress on your neck and lower spine.
Causes of Subluxations
Subluxations can be caused by a difficult birth, a fall as a child, an accident, by working in one position for a long period or chronic emotional tension.
Whiplash injury is a common cause of neck subluxations and may cause headaches, vision problems,[ii] dizziness, ringing in the ears, decreased attention span, learning and memory impairments, emotional changes, nasal, tongue and throat problems.[iii][iv][v]
Chiropractic care realigns the vertebrae and removes stress from nerves. Many people suffering from neck problems, including whiplash, have found chiropractic to be a blessing.[vi] As one major medical journal reports: “Whiplash injuries are common. Chiropractic is the only proven effective treatment in chronic cases and can impair your health if not corrected.[vii]
Disc Damage and Osteoarthritis
If your spine is unhealthy, you may lose your normal neck curve and suffer from pain, nerve irritation and disc degeneration. Although some degeneration is due to age, it can be found even in young children. The most common causes of disc degeneration are years of uncorrected subluxations.
Over time subluxation degeneration causes arthritic changes in the vertebrae such as lipping or spurring (bony growths), disc thinning and deterioration. Studies show little or no correlation between the degree of pain felt in the neck and arthritic changes found on X-rays and MRI. Subluxation degeneration is considered a defense mechanism that tries to stabilize an off balance spine.
The Orthodox Medical Approach
The standard medical approach to neck pain is often painkillers, muscle relaxants and/or tranquilizers. If the pain doesn’t subside, cortisone or other injections may be administered. In some cases physical therapy, neck pillows, collars or traction may be prescribed and, interestingly enough, these constitute a tacit endorsement of the chiropractic approach of releasing pressure on the nerves, joints and openings through which the nerves travel.
Sometimes surgery is needed especially in serious trauma or severe disc herniation. However, in many cases chiropractic techniques have saved people from neck or disc surgery.[viii][ix] There is even evidence that chiropractic care can reverse osteoarthritis – something previously considered impossible.[x]
Surgery should only be chosen “as a last resort”[xi] says medical specialist Rene Cailliet, MD. Even severe torticollis (wry neck) in infants and others is sometimes “fixed” by surgically cutting the neck muscles. However, this condition, as well as many others such as Erb’s Palsy, vision problems, hearing problems and ear, nose and throat infections, have responded to chiropractic neck adjustments, even in infants.[xii][xiii]
The Role of the Chiropractor
Chiropractic spinal care corrects a severe form of spine and nerve stress known as the vertebral subluxation complex. This restores proper movement to your spinal column, permitting greater energy, information and nutrients to flow over your nerves and tissues and throughout your body.
When corrected your entire spine begins to rebalance. That is why, for example, people with lower back problems, after receiving a neck adjustment from their chiropractor find, to their surprise, that their low back pain not only starts feeling better, as well as many other problems, but they have more energy as well!
Just as a periodic dental check-up is necessary to keep your teeth healthy, so a chiropractic spinal check-up is necessary to ensure a nervous system that is free from spinal nerve stress permitting you to experience greater healing and well-being. No matter what disease or condition you have, you can benefit from a healthy spine.
[i] Cailliet R, Neck and arm pain. Philidelphia: F. A. Davis. 1979:45.
[ii] Gorman RE, The treatment of presumptive optic nerve ischemia by spinal manipulation. JMPT. 1995; 18:172-177.
[iii] Di Stefano G, Radanov BP. Course of attention and memory after common whiplash. Acta Neurol Scand. 1995; 91 346-352.
[iv] Vernon H. Upper cervical syndrome. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. 1988:192.
[v] Otte A, Mueller J. Brain SPECT findings in late whiplash syndrome. Lancet. 1995; 345:1512-13.
[vi] Giles LG, Muller R. Chronic spinal pain syndromes: a clinical pilot trial comparing acupuncture, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), and spinal manipulation. JMPT. 1999:22(6):376-381.
[vii] Khan S, Cook J, Gargan M, Bannister G. A symptomatic classification of whiplash injury and the implications for treatment. J Orthopedic Medicine. 1999; 21(1).
[viii] Eriksen K. Management of cervical disc herniation with upper cervical chiropractic care. JMPT. 1998;21(1).
[ix] Robinson, GK. Reabsorption of a herniated cervical disc following chiropractic treatment utilizing the atlas orthogonal technique: a case report. Chiropractic Research Journal. 1998:5(1).
[x] Ressel OJ. Disc regeneration: reversibility is possible in spinal osteoarthritis. ICA Review. March/April 1989:39-61.
[xi] Cailliet R, ibid. p.85.
[xii] Colin N. Congenital muscular torticollis: a review, case study, and proposed protocol for chiropractic management. Topics in Clinical Chiropractic. 1998; 5(3):27-33.
[xiii] Biedermann HJ. Kinematic imbalances due to sub occipital strain in newborns. Manual Medicine. 1992; 6:151-156.