Neck Pains. What a pain in the neck – Lessons from a massage therapist.
Neck pain is a common problem in our society with prevalence between 10% and 15%. Although anyone can suffer from neck pain, it is most common for women over the age of 50. Neck pain can be severely disabling and costly. Common symptoms related to neck pain include a limited range of motion, stiffness, headaches, and dizziness. There are 4 main structures of the neck that all contribute to neck pain – Muscles, facet joints, ligaments and nerve/disk.
There are a number of muscles in the neck that are susceptible to straining. A sprain involves micro-tearing of the muscle fibres. Muscles will also tighten up due to issues with facet joints, ligaments nerves or discs. In most instances, this is a protective mechanism to help stabilise the vertebra and reduce the amount of pain being experienced. Chronic postural issues will also cause certain muscles to become tight whilst others will become stretched and weak.
Any muscle injury will generally cause the neck to feel stiff and sore and may feel hot and swollen to touch. In contrast, if the muscle is tight or acting as a splint for the protection it will feel sore and ropey instead of soft and sore.
Muscles that are tight from stress respond great to massage, but neither massage of muscle relaxants are effective in loosening muscles that are splinting the neck. Exercise is great to help strengthen weak muscles so over time, the tight muscles will be able to relax, and better distribute the load of effort. Rest, Ice, Compression and elevation is still the most appropriate treatment for soft, swollen muscles in the first 48 hours, but most muscle injuries will generally heal within 2-14 days.
Facet joints exist between the vertebrae and can sometimes get stuck on one side causing the vertebrae to be misaligned. This may be a result of the muscles influencing the position of the bones, ligaments controlling movement or the joints themselves rubbing on each other.
When a facet joint is stuck, it will generally cause pain, stiffness and the range of motion in a certain direction to be restricted. A pinching sensation may also be experienced.
In some cases, the joints may unstick themselves. Softer approaches to treatment such as muscle energy techniques, which is practiced by remedial massage therapists and myotherapist, use the muscles to help realign the vertebra.
Ligaments limit the amount of motion that can be produced by a muscle. When injured and overstretched they can tear. Long term postural issues can also place unnecessary stress on ligaments.
When a ligament is torn, it will usually feel stiff, particularly in the morning due to lack of movement and heal very slowly, often over several months.
The best way to treat ligament damage is by reducing inflammation and rest. Massage techniques that involve non-resistive movements can help the fibres to heal properly. In long term injuries, injections by a medical Doctor may be required.
Nerve injuries occur as a result of an outside compression on the nerves from a bulging disk or bone growth. Bulging disks are more likely to occur in the lower back as oppose to the neck due to the additional load being placed on the lower back
Pain and unusual sensations from nerve injuries in the neck will usually be felt across the chest or down the arm. Compression of motor nerves can cause reduced strength while compression of sensory nerves may cause numbness, tingling or pain.
Treatment for nerve injuries involves removing the compression on the nerve. This may be done through massage to help to relax the muscles that may be causing the compression, realigning the joints, correcting posture, time and rest.
All VFA Learning academies offer an in-house student Massage Clinic . There are multiple different types of massage treatment our students offer; each will reduce and alleviate pain in a different way.
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