Are Invasive Procedures the Only Hope for Managing Neck Pain?
In a recent article published in a journal for neurosurgeons reported “successful” treatment of neck pain was only obtained after utilizing an “MBB.” MBB, meaning medial branch block, is a procedure where medication is injected into the spine next to branches of spinal nerves to deaden them. Interestingly enough, the procedure is only temporary and was used after a typical regime of medications of varying combinations, which included: Tylenol, tramadol (muscle relaxer) and codeine. If various combinations of the drug were unsuccessful, the patients were subjected to the more invasive nerve block procedure.
The authors of the study made “discovery” after taking x-rays. There was a relationship between loss of cervical curve and severity of pain.
“Dysfunctional cervical intervertebral discs, cervical facet joints, atlanto-axial and atlanto-occipital joints, ligaments, fascia, muscles, and nerve root dura have been shown to induce pain in the cervical spine with the resulting sequelae of neck pain, upper extremity pain, and head- ache.”
It is EXACTLY this analysis which we have been using at our office for the past 15 years to not only determine the cause of neck pain, headaches and radiating arm pain but also to create a solution. The methods used in the study cited above can only manage symptoms. Our process of spinal remodeling solves these problems. Loss of normal cervical curvature and alignment will cause problems if present; it’s only a matter of time. Only consistent, perpetual use of these drugs will diminish symptoms and make you feel better. Unfortunately, the use of pharmacological interventions will stop pain AND allow the degenerative processes, which are causing the pain and symptoms to continue. The long-term effect is people will think their problem has been solved instead of realizing it has only been “managed.” They will no longer look for a solution because they think once the pain has gone; their problem has been solved. It’s actually the exact opposite. The abnormal position of your spine, which has lead to your symptoms, continues to create accelerated degenerative changes. You can think of the opportunity to solve your neck pain as one with an expiration date. The longer you wait to actually solve the problem, the harder it will be to achieve a successful outcome.
The spine is a complex system of joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and nerves. All of these units work in together to create our neutral and active postures. Our posture is just an external expression of what’s happening internally. The reason posture is one of the many tools our office uses to develop treatment plans for patients is because it allows us a quick and easy method to establish a baseline prior to treatment. We tend to think that posture and movement are separate entities when, actually, they are tied together on a spectrum of active movement versus static balance. The spine forms the structure to which the muscles are attached. If the underlying structure is out of position, our muscles will have to work harder to control movement. Static balance is a very active process, the brain is using your nervous system to detect slight movements and activate your muscles to keep your body balanced. Muscles that have to work harder due to poor internal structure (and poor posture) fatigue more quickly, have a harder time maintaining balance (equilibrium) and lead to increase loading on the joints. The increased loading (force) on your joints will inevitably lead to breakdown and degeneration of both the hard and soft tissues in your body.
Good posture isn’t as simple as just “sitting or standing up straight.” Your body and the ligaments responsible for posture have remodeled and changed shape over time.
Your muscles aren’t strong enough to last against ligaments. Ligaments act exactly like gigantic rubber bands and are responsible for helping create your posture in conjunction with the action of your muscles. These rubber bands can deform over time, looking down at cellphones, laptops or working at a desk, can all create changes in the shape of your ligaments. Car accidents, falls off a bike or a slip on ice can create immediate changes to the shape of your ligaments. The soreness your feel after a car accident or a fall are a sign your muscle and ligaments have been damaged. Even though the pain may go away, the damage remains and will lead to progressive degenerative changes over time. It’s not a question of “if” your spine will degenerate when it has lost its normal position; it’s a question of “when” and “how bad.”
In “The cell biology of intervertebral disc aging and degeneration” written by Zhao, et al and published in the journal, “Ageing Research Reviews” is very clear that abnormal position is responsible for accelerate aging and breakdown of our bodies:
“Intervertebral disc degeneration, which mimics disc aging but occurs at an accelerated rate, is considered to be related to neck or low back pain and disc herniation.”
The relationship of pain to the presence of accelerated degenerative changes is clear. The only remaining factor is answering the question: does abnormal position cause increased loading and stress? You can probably guess since I’m asking the question, someone has already found the answer. In an article titled, “Straightened cervical lordosis causes stress concentration: a finite element model study,” the authors used a very sophisticated system of analysis to compare spinal position and loading within the spine. In this instance, spinal position and posture can be considered to mean the same thing. “The result demonstrated that the active movement range of straightened cervical spine decreased by 24–33 %, but the stress increased by 5–95 %.”
The short version? Abnormal position leads to LESS MOTION and MORE STRESS. The same article tells us these results may be useful in the treatment of cervical spondylosis (arthritic changes). The obvious statement they missed is that abnormal position CAUSES these changes. In the absence of abnormal spinal position (posture), the presence of degeneration is very rare.
Our office chooses to correct the CAUSE of these problems. Using the most advanced spinal analysis software available, your spine is compared to a normal spine and used to build a prescription for corrective care which will help your body remodel the spine into a more normal position. Our goal is NOT to manage your pain, it’s to SOLVE your problem! If you have persistent back or neck pain, it’s a safe bet abnormal spinal position is the cause because true muscular complaints resolve within 4-6 weeks. We help people get a new perspective on their pain and help them eradicate symptoms and get back to doing what they enjoy with whom they enjoy doing it.
Your Posture May Be Influencing These Aspects of Your Overall Health
We all have memories of being told off for slouching in our childhood, but there’s a reason why we were instructed to sit up straight or stand appropriately – good posture can be the difference between good health and a long list of concerns and complaints later in life.
So, what is good posture? The short answer is to be standing upright, with your spine rigid and head up, eyes forward. If seated, attempt to replicate this position from the waist up – back unyielding, without leaning too far back of forward and curving the spine. If you can balance a book on your head, your posture is perfect!
Failing to follow these instructions and allowing your posture to slump is not just unsightly; it could have all kinds of negative impacts on your general health, as well as leading to the requirement of professional intervention from an osteopath or similar healthcare professional. Obviously here at Align Joint & Spine we are always prepared to assist with that, but we would always advise you to watch the manner in which you carry yourself before medical intervention becomes a requirement!
Here are five examples of the impact that posture can have on your physical and emotional wellbeing, and how maintaining an optimum spinal structure will greatly benefit your overall health.
Did you know that good posture is intrinsically linked to good mental health and a positive frame of mind? Several studies have suggested that slouched and slumped shoulders are not just a result of depression and anxiety – they could also be a root cause. Taking up an appropriate posture, with your back straight and head up, will improve your lateral thinking and empower you psychologically. You will feel more enthusiastic about a task or problem that you may be facing, and ready to take on the world.
This decrease in physical or mental fatigue is thanks to messages fed to the brain by your body that you are prepared to actively engage with anything that requires a reaction – messages forged by a faster heartbeat. If you are seated or stood in a less dominant position, your organs and brain will take on the same sense of passivity.
What’s more, your mind will also play a game of association. If you associate sensations of exhaustion, anxiety and stress with slumping lower into your seat or slouching your shoulders, your brain will assume that’s how you must be feeling right now and release the relevant hormones. Ultimately, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Breathing and Respiratory Function
Posture can have a huge impact on the ability of your respiratory system to take oxygen into the lungs. Adopting a poor or incorrect posture can lead to shallower breaths, and shallow breathing means that a steady supply of oxygen cannot make its way into your lungs – which, naturally, leads to poor levels of energy. Maintain this poor quality of breathing up for long enough and the impact will be irreversible, potentially leading to chronic problems with catching your breath later in life.
Leaning to the left or right is a major cause of shallow breathing related to posture. Stand on one leg for a few seconds and compare your breaths to those you take when you apply an equal distribution of weight over both feet – you will notice a very clear difference. Likewise, slouching and bending restricts the access that your lungs have to fill with air. Imagine trying to blow up a balloon while a hardcover book is resting on top of it – you wouldn’t get very far.
Next time you are seated, straighten up your spine and keep a deep breath. You’ll find that your head clears, and you’ll feel immeasurably better for it. Just once is not enough, though; make this your default posture whenever seated. Likewise, catch yourself in the act of leaning to the left or right, leading with your shoulder. Restore yourself to complete vertical status and drink in those deep lungfuls of air!
Are you plagued with toothache, lockjaw or other dental hygiene problems? This could be down to the posture of your jawbone, which is connected to your spine and shoulders – it’s all part of a skeletal chain. If you slump your shoulders, your head will automatically roll forward, or if you sit too far back in a chair and allow your neck to fall backward your head will fall back. The result of this is will be your teeth connecting in an unnatural position, and potentially grinding against each other – which can cause all kinds of discomfort.
Carrying your mouth too tightly is a similar issue that can be caused by poor posture. If you have a tendency to clench your teeth and set your jaw, try housing your tongue in the roof of your mouth while your mouth is passive. Coupled with maintaining a straight spine and neck, this will ensure that your teeth and bite do not end up misaligned. While practicing good posture, also be sure to keep your jawbone straight and pointed forward while your neck is upright.
Issues with the Digestive System
Your digestive tract is yet another key internal system that relies upon a quality posture in order to function at maximum capacity. If you are seated in a poor position, you will be crunching your intestines – and, once again, you are restricting access to an essential element of the human body, making it difficult for your acids contained in your stomach to break food down and pass it along to the colon.
Yes, if you maintain a poor posture you are folding your intestines over and slowing down your body’s digestive process – with constipation just one of the side effects that could follow as a result. Bad posture is also to blame for a great many physical discomforts such as bloating and stomach cramp, all due to the fact that your internal organs do not have the appropriate space to do their work.
Stop bunching your stomach muscles up by slouching – sit upright and proud and you’ll find that you feel significantly less uncomfortable after meals. This will be even more rewarding if you are able to stand and stretch those all-important back muscles afterward.
Problems with Circulation
Your circulation will also take a hit by slumping and slouching. Much like your lungs will struggle will fill with air when pathways are blocked, your heart will not be able to pump blood accurately and steadily throughout your body when restrictions are placed upon its route thanks to an unhelpful body shape.
The outcome of this could be difficulty in maintaining a comfortable temperature, and all kinds of unpleasant side effects such as inflammation and aching joints. What’s more, a lack of steady blood flow will have a negative impact on your immune system and leave you susceptible to health complaints such as the common cold.
A good, steady circulation will give you a vibrant, healthy nervous system which ensures that you will stay active and vibrant in your day-to-day activities; all of which will compliment a fine posture, enabling you to walk firmly and proudly with your head held high and your spine straight. This, in turn, will keep your circulation flowing – which is essential, as poor circulation also brings us back to the mental health aspect of poor posture that we have previously discussed.
If we are not experiencing a steady and consistent flow of blood throughout the body and brain, anxiety and depression can quickly follow. That, in turn, can cause you to slump your shoulders as though they carry the weight of the world upon them. Before you know it, the cycle begins all over again and we are back to square one. Keep that posture upright – more depends upon it than you may have initially realized!
By now, you should have an idea of just how important a good posture can be – it wasn’t just something that authority figures enjoyed yelling at you about simply because they could. The discussions above have not even factored in the general aches and pains that you could experience in your back, neck and shoulders by neglecting to utilize an appropriate posture.
Remember, always stand tall and keep your entire body in a vertical line – shoulders straight and head held high – and avoid slouching forward whenever you are seated. Following such basic golden rules is key to a long, healthy and happy life- and one that is free of wholly avoidable discomfort.
BY: Abbey Hudetz
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