How to Cure Neck Pain Naturally
Craning to see distant traffic, hunching to grasp a telephone and rotating for side vision are all in a day's work for your neck. No wonder it sometimes protests with stiffness and pain.
In their home medical manual Take Care of Yourself, Drs Donald M Vickery and James F Fries suggest that a doctor be seen immediately for neck pain if it travels down one arm, if an arm is numb or tingly, if pain is associated with fever and headache or if the neck is so stiff that the chin can't be touched to the chest. But quite a few neck aches, pain, and stiffness are a result of simple muscle strain and/or tension.
'A friend of mine even strained his neck muscles when he twisted his head quickly to look at a pretty girl, ' chortled one physical education specialist.
John Friedrich, chairman of the department of health, physical education and recreation at Duke University in North Carolina, told us that neck injuries occur easily in daily activities as well as in sports. He had recently injured his own neck by twisting and leaning back on an overhead shot in tennis.
'Neck pain is often related to improper movement — going too far in the wrong direction or just not moving in a sound way. You can injure your neck leaning over to pick up a pencil or lounging in a chair — although some people are never bothered. And I recently heard of a case where the members of a construction crew all ended up with sore necks from constantly having to look up on a job. '
Besides the garden-variety aches and cricks, neck troubles can bring on a host of other symptoms, including headaches, pains in the scalp, face or ears, dizziness, pressure behind the eyes, fainting, and pain or soreness in the shoulder or arm.
Are your muscles shrinking?Try putting your hands on the back of your neck at the base of the skull. Find the place where the muscles meet, and press on it. Did you jump? If so, you're in the company of 90 per cent of equally stiff adults, according to Los Angeles physical therapist Hyman Jampol. Jampol, who directs the Beverly Palms Rehabilitation Hospital described a cycle of neck tension to us: 'As neck muscles tense, they shorten. That inhibits the head's full range of motion. And as you move you're headless, the muscles get shorter and shorter. Motion is inhibited even more.' And because the neck and the rest of the back are so closely related structurally, a person who suffers from problems in one area could possibly eventually suffer from problems in the other.
Physical therapist, John Reibel, also with Duke's physical education department, told us why: 'A neck muscle strain often results from or is concomitant with an exaggerated curve in the lower back. There's a natural slight S curve in the spine column, but if people get weak abdominal muscles and let their pelvises drop forward, the lower back also goes forward and exaggerates this curve. To compensate, the upper backdrops backward and the neck goes way forward. Pain results. '
How do abdominal muscles become weak? Add them to the list of woes brought on by obesity. Your fat, unfortunately, can make your neck ache. Pregnancy and lack of exercise can, too. Good posture helps, according to Riebel, but the stiff military stance — shoulders back and chin up — that well-intentioned parents urge on their children can actually create problems.
'Even West Point [the US military academy] is getting away from that. Throwing your shoulders back without tightening abdominal muscles exaggerates that spinal curve and leads to trouble,' Riebel advised. Instead of throwing your shoulders back, he added, just hold your belly in.
But what if your neck still aches? Perhaps one of your feet turns or drops, throwing your leg, and in turn your whole spinal curve, out of line. Correcting your gait might help. Maybe you tilt your chin to look at close work while wearing bifocals. A pair of reading glasses might solve the problem. Or, you may have a stronger ear or eye on one side that causes you constantly to tilt your head to listen or see. A hearing aid or glasses might relieve the pain in your neck.
Heat may bring relief, whether it comes from a sauna, whirlpool or tub bath, shower, hot moist compress or heating pad. Gentle massage is also comforting. Throwing away your high pillows might be all that's needed. Using traction, a neck collar or a sling might help, but you need expert instruction in their use. Because responses vary so much from person to person, you might have to try several treatments before you find relief.
Some simple therapies
All of the experts we spoke to agreed that exercise is an ideal way both to treat and to prevent neck problems. Go easy, though, if your neck is already troubling you.
Riebel suggests standing under a hot shower and moving the neck back and forth. If it hurts a little, you're probably doing better than harm. But get to the doctor, he warns, if you feel tingling in your arm. He also suggests that anyone — and weekend athletes, in particular — would benefit from a simple exercise of circling the neck. Put your chin on your chest and then rotate your head in a complete circle, five or six times a day in both a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction. Arm circles will also help the neck muscles, and sit-ups did correctly are important because they keep the abdomen strong, he added.
'Very simple' is the way Jampol describes the regimen of stretches he advises patients to do daily. 'All of us are under some kind of stress. You can't eliminate tension, but you can control it. It's important to be able to turn the head so far to the side that the nose is in line with the shoulder. Looking straight ahead, begin turning your head until your nose lines up with your shoulder on the right, then on the left. Do this three or more times a day — whenever you feel your neck tensing up — and you'll stop hurting. The human body is a marvelous machine with safety and corrective mechanisms built into it. With a little instruction, you should be able to maintain a pain-free neck and back all your life. '
Save your neck!Sometimes neck Problems are the root of pain in another area of the body. Prevention magazine editor, Robert Rodale, shares his experience with neck Problems.
'You ought to write something about woodcutters' injuries.' My friend Tom Dickson, a local orthopedic surgeon, said that to me one winter. The American wood-burning season was in full swing, and a parade of walking wounded was passing through his office. 'I'm seeing some pretty bad cases, ' he continued. 'One man had a piece of steel from a broken splitting wedge in his leg. It was the size of .38 slug. A woman broke two fingers trying to hold on to an ax that twisted when it hit a tree. It's an epidemic. '
I was thinking of those unfortunate people a few days later when I went out into my small woodlot to cut down 25 pine trees that were crowding each other. No splitting wedges for me, though. And no axes to twist in my hands, either. Just a Scandinavian bow saw, which I thought was as safe as safe could be.
What wasn't safe, though, was a large number of trees. After falling about ten, I realized that maybe I was tackling too much and quit. But the damage had been done. That night I experienced a type of pain that was entirely new to me. When I turned on my side, after having slept flat on my back for several hours, a sharp pain flashed under my right shoulder blade, not far from the center of my back. That was it — just the one burst. The rest of the night, I felt 0K, but the next day, the pain came back.
'It will go away,' I said to myself. All other pains I ever got from working too hard had passed. This one would, too. But it didn't. In fact, it progressively got worse. After about six weeks of trying to wait it out, my right arm hurt so much, all day long, that I was trying not to use it for any work heavier than turning the pages of a book.
There was nothing to do but see Dr. Dickson and tell him that, even before I had time to warn our readers, I had acquired my own personal woodcutter's injury.
'You may have bursitis, ' he said first off. But then he felt around my shoulder and could find no tender spots. 'There's a possibility the problem is in your neck. I'll need an X-ray to find out for sure.'
Now Tom knows that I like X-rays as much as I would enjoy living next to a nuclear power plant. So he promised that only one exposure would be needed to see whether something happening in my neck could be causing the persistent shoulder and arm pain. I finally said 0K, reasoning that in cases where there was a need to know facts about a specific injury, use of X-rays in moderation made sense.
'Here could be your trouble,' he said a few minutes later, pointing to the X-ray of my neck. 'There should be space between the vertebrae, but these two right here are too close.' Dr. Dickson was showing me a classic case of a compressed cervical disc. The word cervical refers to the neck area. Discs are soft-tissue bodies that provide padding between the vertebrae. When healthy and full-sized, they space out those bones properly, cushioning the nerves, blood vessels and muscle tissue that serve the needs of the body's vital spinal area. When there is too much spinal stress or pressure, one or more discs can become compressed. That puts pressure on the nerves extending from the spinal cord to various other parts of the body. Pain can result in the area to which those pinched nerves extend.
'How did that happen,' I asked. What puzzled me was the possibility of a connection between the squeezed disc in my neck and what I thought was a sore shoulder caused by sawing too much wood too fast. Maybe the two weren't related at all. 'A compressed disc in the neck can be caused by many different kinds of injuries or blows to the head or neck,' Tom said. 'Whiplash from a car accident can do it. I see it in rugby players, who push each other with their heads. Maybe it comes from sleeping with too thick a pillow, or sleeping on your stomach. Both are bad. '
The X-ray picture of my neck showed that the compressed disc area was in the front of the cervical spine. Bending the head forward naturally puts more pressure on that area of the disc, which is the part usually squeezed. Since finding out about my own problem, I've been reading up on squeezed neck discs in the medical literature, and I also studied a sheet of do-and-don't postural and exercise instructions Dr. Dickson gave me. I found that posture which causes the head to hang forward for long periods may put too much pressure on those discs. One doctor has said that secretaries often get cervical disc problems because they work all day long looking down at their typewriters. A fall forward, stopped by your hands, causes your head to snap to the front. That could do it, some doctors believe. I have a large head, which could make me more vulnerable to disc strain than someone with a small hat size.
'Seeing a compressed disc like this on an X-ray isn't proof that it's causing a problem, ' Tom explained to me. 'Sometimes we X-ray the neck of a person who has been in a car accident and find several old degenerated discs. Yet they say they never had any pain before the accident. '
All the time that these facts about discs were being explained to me, I was doing some low-key worrying about what kind of treatment would be suggested.
'I used to operate on cases like yours,' Tom told me. Those words 'used to' were comforting. 'Then I found out about what could be done with home traction. In fact, in the seven years, I've been prescribing traction at home, I haven't done a single cervical disc operation. '
Home tractionThe home-traction apparatus Dr. Dickson prescribed was simple to use. It consisted of a pulley arrangement that fits over a door, a length of rope, a plastic bag, and a harness that fits under the chin and around the back of the head. When everything is put together and water placed in the bag, enough upward pull is exerted on the head so that the cervical spine is stretched, relieving the pressure on the disc.
'Put 10 to 15 pounds of water in the bag at first,' Tom told me. 'Give yourself 20 minutes of traction twice a day — morning and evening. You can read to make the time go faster. And every week add two more pounds of weight until you feel it's enough. '
'How much do you think will be enough?' I asked. I had visions of turning into something like one of those native African ladies with a neck a foot long.
'One patient of mine, a rugby player, went up to 35 pounds, ' Tom said.
As it turned out, 25 pounds was enough to do the job for me. Since I started at 10 and added 15 more, the course of treatment lasted seven weeks. I found traction to be not exactly fun, but not unpleasant either. The harness does irritate your chin somewhat until you get it adjusted or get used to it. And the pulling sensation is vaguely unpleasant. I had time to reflect on all those years when my heavy head was bearing down on those cushiony neck discs, and how the traction was giving needed relief.
Two conditions other than the pain under my shoulder blade and down my arm also cleared up as the weeks of traction passed. For several years, I had not been able to turn my head to the right as far as I could turn it to the left. There was no pain, but I had noticed when sitting by a window on the right side of an airplane that I had difficulty when turning to look out. After a couple of weeks of traction, I could turn my head easily in both directions.
Neck stiffness like that is a clear sign of a possible cervical disc problem. You can give yourself a simple diagnostic test. Try to turn your neck left and right slowly and see whether you have a full, unrestricted range of motion in both directions. People with a cervical disc problem might feel a pulling in the shoulder area, some pain and even swell and tenderness. Another sign is tingling in the fingers. I read about that symptom in the medical literature and recalled that for a year or two I did have an occasional sensation of something tingling in my right hand. Like the neck stiffness, that cleared up, too, after several weeks of traction.
Getting to the root of the painThis experience has demonstrated to me how important it is when dealing with pain to get to the root of the problem. An event you think is the cause of pain — in my case, the sawing of too much wood — may be only a contributing factor. Furthermore, the place where you feel pain may not be the part of the body where the lesion (injury) or nerve pressure causing the hurt is actually located. Treatment directed at the site of the pain is therefore often a waste of time, and possibly even counterproductive.
The whole spinal area, from our neck down to the base of our spine, is where much of this 'referred' pain starts. Visualize, if you will, all those dozens of different nerves leading from your spinal cord off into your arms and legs and points between. Then think also of the vertebrae that are placed there to protect that vital nerve conduit, and the potential for pinching nerves that exist when those bony parts get too close together, slip out of place or are injured in other ways. If it weren't for the soft and cushiony discs between vertebrae, the system simply wouldn't work. Nerves would be pinched every time we moved, and messages of referred pain sent constantly to our limbs and even to our head.
Think for a moment about how much you move your neck. All day long you turn to look from side to side, or up and down. At night, you put a pillow under your head and keep your neck twisted for hours at a time. Consider also that your neck is the bridge between your body and your head. Sudden motion of one or the other can impart 'whiplash' stress. Maybe you can now begin to see why it's important to understand the structures inside your neck and what sensations you can receive if they begin to weaken.
There is a good possibility that pressure on cervical discs can also be a cause of a headache, particularly the persistent kind. That theory is put forth by Dr. Murray M. Braaf of New York City. He and Dr. Samuel Rosner wrote in the Journal of Trauma about their work with over 6000 cases of a chronic headache, a large proportion of which they could trace to the cervical spine injury.
Dr. Braaf, in a phone conversation, told us that people with strong necks have less of a problem with a headache from that cause. Some minor injuries to the neck can cause headaches that go away in seven to ten days. But there can be a wide variety of other injuries that lead to persistent headache problems. Sometimes trauma to the neck occurs many years before the headache problem starts. Drs Braaf and Rosner also say in their articles that 'Repeated strain or minor injury to the neck may be all that is necessary to precipitate a headache. '
There is a possibility that headaches which originate in neck strain are caused by a more complex series of events than simply a pinched nerve. Drs Braaf and Rosner point out that compression of the vertebral artery, 'even on an intermittent basis', can cause partial restriction of blood flow to the head. That can cause pain and other symptoms, especially dizziness. Another possibility is that pinching of the neck nerves in some way affects the nerves serving the head. My own feeling is that a great deal remains to be discovered about what goes on in the body when the vertebral structures in the neck get out of whack, but it is easy to see that there is a large possibility for the pain of different kinds to result.
Also quite clear is the usefulness of traction in relieving these various problems. Except in very serious cases, the neck nerves are not actually damaged. They are merely pressed. Pulling on the head in a regular and systematic way gradually separates the vertebrae slightly, relieving the pressure. Traction treatment is not a permanent cure of the problem for most people, though, Dr. Dickson told me, 'Don't forget where you put your apparatus after you're finished with it. You may need it again in a year or two.' Apparently, a compressed disc doesn't return to its original shape and strength.
There is some controversy about which method of applying traction is best. Dr. Braaf says cervical traction, to be effective, must be carried out with the patient lying down on his or her back. He feels that traction applied when a person is sitting up 'doesn't pull in the right direction'. The sitting-up position is less comfortable, he says, and the patient can't tolerate the necessary pull for any length of time. Dr. Braaf recommends 5 to 15 pounds of pull, which is quite moderate.
People who want to take their traction lying down can do that at home, but the upright, over-the-door method I used is cheaper and easier to set up. As I said before, the discomfort was tolerable, especially considering the relief from pain that traction provided for me.
Preventing neck strainWhat about preventing the kind of neck problems I have been describing? There are two aspects to that question. The first is whether there is a preventive approach to neck strain itself that can keep you from having to put your head in any kind of sling. Being so prevention oriented, I asked that question of Dr. Dickson.
'There is no way to prevent this that I know about,' he said. But at the same time, he gave me an instruction sheet listing exercises that are useful in cervical strain, as well as 'helpful hints for a healthy neck'. They include instructions to sit straight in your chair instead of slouching, not sleeping on your stomach, and using a thin pillow placed under your neck instead of your head. Special pillows are sold that support the neck instead of the head, but Dr. Dickson was less than enthusiastic about them.
One doctor who feels that it is possible to prevent and greatly reduce cervical disc problems is James Greenwood, Jr, chief of neurosurgery at Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas. He has a three-step program. First is the mild exercise that builds neck strength, such as swimming. Dr. Greenwood also believes that such gentle exercise helps to get needed vitamin C and other nutrients to the joints and discs. Without that help, they can degenerate and will have difficulty repairing themselves, he says. Supplementary amounts of vitamin C in the range of 2-3 g are a part of his program. Finally, he recommends weight control, which is certainly a good idea for more reasons than an attempt to protect your neck from strain.
I mentioned that there are two aspects of prevention in this situation. The second concerns the prevention of false diagnosis of the cause of upper-body pain. Many people have the kind of pain I experienced but are not fortunate enough to identify the neck quickly as the source of the problem. Because we live in such a drug-oriented culture, the first therapeutic thought often is to ask for a prescription for a pain-killing drug or even a tranquilizer. I am trying to help change that situation by writing about my experience. While I don't want you to worry about your neck unnecessarily, I feel more people need to know that an old-fashioned therapy like merely stretching a part of the body that can become compressed has many advantages over the use of chemical treatments.
There needs to be the wider understanding of the vulnerability of the neck and what the signs of trouble are. If you have no pain in your arms and shoulders, and can move your neck freely an equal distance from left to right, then just file what I have said about the cervical strain for future reference. But just to be on the safe side, stop sleeping on your stomach, and use a thin pillow under your neck instead of a big bolster at the back of your head. And make sure that the headrest on your car is adjusted properly so that it will support your head in case someone hits you from behind.
How to Cure Neck Problems Naturally Reviewed by Healthy Kite on 8/26/2016 Rating: