Neck pain is the number three cause of chronic pain with more than 25% of Americans reporting being affected by this condition. I think that these numbers might be a little low though, because there studies that have shown that close to one in two Americans believe that pain is a part of life and 41% of Americans believe that pain is a normal part of aging. From these studies we can deduce that there are many Americans who might be suffering with chronic neck and arm pain who do so because they believe it’s a normal “side effect” of getting older. Chronic pains are not, though, normal at all and they should be evaluated and treated.
When I say neck and arm pain I mean, of course neck pain, but also pain that radiates or shoots from your neck or shoulder into you arm. You might also have numbness or tingling in your shoulder, arm, hand, or fingers. There are many causes of neck pain, acute injury or accident are the obvious but less obvious can include sleeping in an improper position or having bad posture. A major underlying cause of chronic neck and arm pain that we see is a bad neck curve. From the front your cervical (neck) spine should be straight and from the side there should be a C shaped curve. Evidence shows that any deviation from normal will create stress on joints and muscles making your prone to pain, injury, disc bulging, and arthritis. From our point of view the loss of the normal posture and loss of the normal curve in the neck is a key factor in causing neck and arm pain. If you are treated and your posture is unchanged it is highly likely you will have a recurrence of neck and arm pain at some point in your future.
What we do to limit your chance of a re-occurrence is to treat to improve the structure of your posture and neck as an outcome. While we want your symptoms to resolve, we want you to end care only after we have improved the stability of your spine. In a way this is similar to other physical therapy where the outcome isn’t just tied to your pain going away but also to improving the strength of whatever joint is the problem. We have found our type of care to be very effective in the long term management of chronic neck and back pain and while I can tell you a number of patient success stories there is also significant research to back up this care.
Two papers were very recently published that highlight the significance of correcting the curve in your neck for long term symptom relief. Both of these studies were published by authors based in Egypt. In both of these papers they compared standard physical therapy procedures to standard physical therapy procedures plus neck curve correction. The standard care group had exercises for flexibility and strengthening, heat applied to the painful area, electrostimulation to the painful area, and manipulation in one of the studies to the thoracic spine. The other group had all that care plus traction to restore the curve in the neck. The patients in one paper suffered from dizziness and neck pain, the other paper dealt with patients who had neck pain with pain radiating into an arm. In both studies, at the end of the treatment period of 30 visits, there was similar relief of pain and symptoms in the standard group and the neck curve correction group. The patients in both studies were then released from care for one year. After one year they were asked back to re-evaluate their symptoms and only the group who had their neck curve corrected maintained their pain and symptom relief while the standard therapy group had their pain and symptoms return to their pre-treatment levels.
The above means that when we correct a patients spine we should expect a relief of pain and symptoms for up to and possibly longer than, one year. This is opposed to standard care, which does not include curve correction, when we don’t improve the curve we should expect your pain to return to the same levels they were prior to starting treatment. If you have neck and arm pain and have had physical therapy or standard chiropractic care, any care that does not include improving your neck curve, it is likely you continue to suffer from that pain from time to time. You don’t have to. If you engage in care to improve your posture and the structure of your spine you can have a better long term outcome than standard care alone. This isn’t just us our opinion but fact based on recent, relevant research.