Neck Alignment and Neck Pain

Bad neck xrayMany people have been to a chiropractor.  If you are one of them, and you came in for a neck and/or shoulder problem; or headache, you may have been advised by the chiropractor to take a lateral (side-view) cervical (neck) x-ray.  The reason for doing so was to determine if the seven vertebrae that comprise the neck are in proper alignment relative to one another.  The chiropractor may have gone on to say that if the neck is not aligned, it recruits the neck muscle to balance the weight of the head in an inefficient manner, causing neck strain and possible headaches.  Also, abnormal alignment may lead to increased pressure in the discs and facet (rear) joints of the vertebrae resulting in arthritis, and possible nerve encroachment (pinching).

So, the question is, is this true?  I believe the analysis has merit.  It basically transfers engineering principles to the human body.

Most chiropractors will explain to their patients that the neck, when viewed to the side (x-ray) must form a gentle arc, with the convexity in the front of the neck.  When the alignment is reversed (convexity at the back of the neck), or if the neck is like a straight line (no curvature), it causes problems in the joints, which can lead to things like a stiff neck, headaches, and even arm symptoms (pain, numbness, tingling).

Consider the arc.  Even centuries ago, ancient civil engineers knew that an arc imparts strength to a structure.  Ancient roman aqueducts had arched ceilings to prevent them from caving in.  If you look at a bridge, you will notice that it has an upward arc to support the traffic that crosses it each day.

The head weighs about 8-10 pounds, and is supported by the neck.  If the neck has an arc, the arc acts like a spring, balancing the weight of the head so that minimal neck muscle contraction is required.  But flatten out the curve, and more neck muscle contraction is needed to hold up the head.  Reverse the curvature, and the demands increase.  And, pressure increases in the discs and facet joints, causing them to wear out faster.

It’s believed that the curvature of the neck is formed during infancy.  When an infant lies on its stomach and raises its head, it forces the neck into an arc.  This starts the process of shaping the neck into the gentle, forward-convexity arc.

The things that cause the arc to flatten include poor posture, prolonged or repeated forward bending of the neck, such as when sitting at a desk looking down, or at a computer monitor; and accidents like whiplash and sports injuries to the neck.

So, if you are experiencing neck pain and/or headaches, or symptoms like tingling in your arms/hands, go see a chiropractor and have your neck x-rayed.  The information will be useful in diagnosing the problem, and deciding on a proper treatment plan.

Dr. Dan

Source: San Francisco chiropractor

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