Over the years the general population has become more sedentary, often with a significant portion of an individual’s average day spent either commuting, sitting at a desk, using a tablet or playing a video game, or perhaps all of the above. Just as excessive sitting can wreak havoc on the lower back area, poor posture and employing improper sitting techniques can adversely affect an individual’s neck area causing a stiff neck and upper back pain as well. In this post, we will discuss the basic anatomy of the cervical, or neck region as it is more commonly referred to, along with some of the common issues that cause neck pain. Lastly, we will wrap up the post by outlining a wide variety of professional physical therapy treatments that can help reduce pain, increase flexibility and strength, and improve posture.
The Cervical Area
The cervical area consists of seven vertebrae at the top of the spine. The top-most bone is referred to as C1, with subsequent bones labeled C2, C3, etc., with the last bone of the cervical area labeled C7. In between each bone is a fluid-filled disc encased in a tough, fibrous material. These discs provide essential shock absorption qualities to the spinal column. Another important aspect of the cervical area is its curve, normally shaped like a backward “C”. This curve helps support the weight of an individual’s head, along with providing a normal range of motion in the neck area. Muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments in and around the cervical area play an important role in providing proper support, the range of motion, and strength throughout the cervical and shoulder area as well. Of course, the cervical area also houses part of the spinal cord and vital nerves that extend throughout the body.
Common Cervical Issues
One of the classic issues that can occur in the cervical area is commonly known as a whiplash injury. Often resulting from a vehicle accident or sports injury, especially when getting hit from behind, a rapid back and forth movement of the head can cause serious damage to vital structures such as tendons, ligaments, joints, discs, and nerves in the cervical area. Some people incur damage to cervical bones, discs, and joints through the normal wear and tear processes that occur over many years, otherwise known as arthritis. However, with the advent of computers, video games, long commutes, and hours spent sitting at a desk or watching TV, even younger individuals are complaining of seemingly relentless stiff and sore neck muscles. Chronically stiff, tense neck muscles can pull cervical joints out of alignment, reduce flexibility in the cervical area, and can lead to a loss of the normal curve in the neck area as well. Without the proper level of strength in neck and shoulder muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the cervical bones, joints, and discs can gradually break down, causing issues with nerve impingement (pinched nerve), bone spurs, and herniated or bulging discs.
Physical Therapy Treatments
Some individuals might think pain pills are the “cure” for their stiff neck syndrome, however, pain pills do not resolve any of the underlying issues that are causing their pain. Instead, the prolonged use of pain pills simply masks the pain, and without properly addressing the cause of the pain and stiffness, it is likely that further damage to additional spinal structures will occur over time. Physical therapy can offer a wide variety of solutions for cervical issues, depending upon the root problem. Physical therapists can evaluate an individual’s posture, along with evaluating the way in which they stand and sit as well. They can recommend proper sitting techniques along with posture retraining tips for standing, walking, and sitting. A professional physical therapist will also create a program of stretching exercises designed to increase flexibility throughout the cervical area, eventually stepping up to strengthening exercises for the neck and shoulder area so that the muscles, tendons, and ligaments can do their job of providing essential support. To help reduce pain, physical therapists can employ techniques such as massage, moist heat application, ultrasound, laser therapy, and mobilizations.
If you or someone you know is trying to cope with pain and stiffness in the neck or upper back areas without success, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call 570-208-2787. Be sure to ask about how to get a FREE Discovery visit valued at over $150!
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