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This is a Pain in the Neck! – A Chiropractor’s Personal Experience with Chronic Neck Pain

This is a real pain in the neck!

By Dr. Naomi Kupferstein

We’ve all been there at some point in our lives, waking up in the morning and feeling pain or discomfort in your neck. Not knowing how or why this happened, your head feels locked and you realize this is a crummy way to start your day.

You may begin retracing your steps, reviewing the previous day trying to figure out where this pain came from. Asking questions like “What did I do? Did I sleep wrong? Was it the pillow? Maybe it was the workout I did yesterday. How am I going to get through the day? Whether you know how it happened or not, neck pain can be really, well, a pain in the neck!

My personal Experience with Neck Pain

I was an avid soccer player from a young age and played goaltender for a high-level girl’s team. I remember the event like it was yesterday. I came out to stop a ball in a half kneeling position. I saw a girl from the opposing team running toward me, so instinctually, I turned away. We both tried to avoid contact and a potential injury. She tried jumping over me but ended up hitting me in the back of my head causing my neck to bend forward rather aggressively. I remember a sharp pain in the left side of my neck and I felt stuck (along with a feeling of doom that I would be paralyzed). What had I done?  

The next few days, I moved around gingerly. I went to the chiropractor who diagnosed me with a “sprained joint” and then we started treatment and rehabilitation. It took about 3 weeks until things resolved but since then, I have had neck pain periodically. Sometimes I go through flare ups and at times I am completely normal. 

You might have experienced something similar, neck pain originating from a sports injury or other acute accident. Perhaps you can’t pinpoint where the pain came from but it’s interfering with your daily life.

With a prevalence of neck pain being up to 70%, this will likely be something you encounter at some point in your life.

Where is my neck pain coming from?

Finding the source of neck pain isn’t always easy as there are many different pain generators in this part of the body. Sources include the muscles, facet joints, discs, and nerves. Let’s go in a little more detail:

1. The Muscles support the vertebrae and help keep your neck/head upright. They support our joints and allow us to perform various movements with our neck. These muscles can be injured by overuse or trauma. 

2. The Facets Joints are one of the connecting points between each vertebrae in the spine and have smooth cartilage to allow for movements between the joints. As we age, these joints begin to degenerate from wear and tear and as a result, our body increases the amount of bone it deposits in these joints. Overtime, this increased amount of bone can cause irritation to neighbouring joints and nerves, leading to inflammation and arthritis.

3. The Discs are the spongy area between vertebrae that allow for nutrients to be absorbed between vertebrae and serve as a shock absorber and allow for some movement within the spine. The outer layer of the disc is called the annulus fibrosis and can be a large contributor of neck pain as it is rich with nerves. The inner layer of the disc is called the nucleus pulposus and is known as the jelly like substance within the disc. In some cases of neck pain, the outer layer of the disc goes through wear and tear from repeated movements or injury, resulting in the soft inner jelly layer of the disc to break or herniate through. This leads to local inflammation around a neighbouring nerve which can create pain in the neck that can also travel down the arm. This is called a disc herniation.

4. The Nerve is one structure that is often compromised by compression or irritation. Most of you will refer to this as a “pinched nerve”. There are nerves at every vertebral level that branch off from the spinal cord providing sensation and activation of our muscles. They travel between the facet joints (listed above) through small gaps between vertebrae called foramen. When a nerve gets irritated, it can create pain locally (closer to the spine) and distally (sometimes down the arm). 

So, what does this all mean?

Going back to the example of my soccer injury, I likely irritated some ligaments and muscles in my neck. The muscles went into spasm and the ligaments were potentially torn. That was my acute injury. Eventually, the inflammation settled, and the ligaments healed. But since then, there’s likely been some ongoing degenerative changes happening in my neck, which may eventually lead to arthritis of the facet joints and vertebrae. 

This is what has led to my chronic neck pain. I have many different pain generators and likely some arthritic changes. What’s important to remember, is that degenerative changes in the spine are issues that develop over time and not overnight. Disc injuries or muscle injuries can occur rather quickly depending on the trauma and if not treated, can lead to chronic problems.

How I deal with my neck pain: Active and Passive Approaches

I am a mere 36 years old and have endured 20 years of ongoing neck pain. Although chiropractic treatment has been something that has always helped get me out of pain, it has been my commitment to exercise and strength training that keeps my neck pain at bay. 

I first started with simple rehab exercises targeted at the deep neck flexor muscles in my neck and overtime I built up endurance and strength. Today, I still remain very active and enjoy playing hockey, cycling and strength training. The combination of specific rehabilitation exercises, general strength training workouts and the odd treatment from my fellow chiropractic colleagues has allowed me to control my pain effectively.

If you are suffering from neck pain from a recent or injury, or you’ve had it for a long time and want to get a better handle on it, please do not hesitate to reach out to our clinic and book an appointment with one of our Chiropractors. They can assess, diagnose, and recommend the best course of action for you. 

Understanding WHY you have neck pain and developing a plan of action on how to effectively deal with is super important! It can decrease your stress, improve the pain you experience, and increase your ability to do more!