Natural Pain Relief for the Neck that does not Include Surgery
Posted Mar 04 2010 12:00am
I get daily emails from patients who suffer from neck pain, stiff neck and often times headaches. More times than not, I find myself re-assuring the patient that yes we can help. Yes, there are other things that they can do that are not surgery. Recently, I heard from a patient with chronic neck pain, diagnosed with moderate to severe degeneration in his neck. I could hear the panic in his voice when he stated that the orthopedist had suggested surgery for his neck.
Well, surgery is an option- but it’s not the first option for sure. Let’s discuss some things that may be effective for dealing with :
Neck Stretches- For too often a patient works in an environment that involves them bending their head forward. This poor posture causes joint dysfunction, degenerative changes and muscles to become shortened and tight. With a chronic neck pain patient- the stretches should be done gently, not to the point of pain- only to the point of feeling a stretch. Start slow in the beginning and work your way up to taking your neck into into its natural ranges of motion (flexion, extension, lateral flexion and rotation)
Chiropractic Adjustments- Helps to increase range of motion, increase proprioception and decrease pain. There are many techniques in chiropractic these days and getting your cervical spine properly aligned plays a key note in how your nervous system functions.
Muscle Therapy- Don’t forget about the muscles in your neck that allow you to check that blind spot while driving. With poor posture, being in pain, not sleeping properly can put a lot of added stress to the soft muscle tissue of the neck. There are great techniques for muscle pain such as ART and trigger point therapy.
Nutrition / Topical Creams- Bromelain: an anti-inflammatory protein that comes from pineapple may be useful for inflammation-related pain and sports injuries. Another great herb is ginger. Topical preperations such as cayenne cream may be beneficial for arthritic joints. Also try peppermint oil which works to quiet the nerve endings that transmit pain signals. Another great natural pain reliever that is topical in nature is biofreeze natural pain relieving gel ; when used in conjunction with ice, it can have a great effect on painful muscles.
Therapy and Support for the Neck- Ice has its place, heat has its place- if it’s a chronic condition often time heat will be more effective. Other tools such as ultrasound and tens electrotherapy can also be quite effective. Even traction for the neck can yield a lot of pain relief. Finally, using a cervical support neck pillow will allow you to sleep more comfortably and ensure that your head and neck are in a proper position for rest.
Posture Check- Your Doctor may say you have a “Military Neck,” “Loss of Cervical Curve,” or maybe “Hypolordosis seen in cervical spine”. With chronic neck pain often comes poor neck posture. Especially when sitting at a computer for a prolonged period of time. Muscular imbalances can occur in the neck flexors, in the deep neck muscles (Longus Colli and Longus Capitus). Studies have shown that through proper neck exercises that involve training the above muscles- neck pain patients were able to maintain a neutral cervical posture during prolonged sitting. Finally, examining your computer station and work area and making sure you are ergonomically set up will make a big difference as well.
Neck Strengthening Exercises- Once you address the muscular imbalances in the neck, and correct the neck posture, you can start to strengthen the neck muscles that we mentioned above. By using isometric exercises with resistance bands and involving the entire body- working to strengthen the neck muscles will play an important role in lessening the chances of neck injury and create better posture.
Did you know?- Nearly 1 in 5 Americans over the age of 60 take medication for chronic pain, but of those, a quarter suffer from side effects, according to a recent NIH report. Common NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen can be a problem for some people- as it can cause stomach bleeding! Look to alternative ways of treating chronic neck pain first.
FALLA D, et al. Effect of neck exercises on sitting posture in patients with chronic neck pain. Physical therapy, April 2007; 87 (4): 408-417.