What to Do for a Pain in the Neck: The Complete Program for Neck Pain Relief

Overview

No one who works at a computer or drives a car will be surprised to learn that neck pain is on the rise. About 70 million people in the United States have had neck pain, and the incidence is increasing. Like back pain, neck pain can become a constant plague that is both mysterious and difficult to treat.

Here at last is help. In What to Do for a Pain in the Neck, one of today's leading experts on neck pain provides a broad range of treatments and preventive measures so that you ...

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What to do for a Pain in the Neck: The Complete Program for Neck Pain Relief

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Overview

No one who works at a computer or drives a car will be surprised to learn that neck pain is on the rise. About 70 million people in the United States have had neck pain, and the incidence is increasing. Like back pain, neck pain can become a constant plague that is both mysterious and difficult to treat.

Here at last is help. In What to Do for a Pain in the Neck, one of today's leading experts on neck pain provides a broad range of treatments and preventive measures so that you do not have to learn how to live with pain -- you can banish it.

Combining his own extensive experience with the best scientific information available, Dr. Jerome Schofferman presents strategies ranging from such simple tips as rearranging your desk, workstation, and computer height to daily exercise routines to aggressive treatments requiring professional care. Among the areas he explores in depth are

• Potential causes of neck pain

• Neck-related headaches

• Whiplash (including the effects of litigation on the rate of recovery)

• What to expect from a chiropractor or physical therapist

• Over-the-counter and prescription pain medications

• Acupuncture, meditation, magnet healing, massage, and other complementary therapies

• First aid for intermittent flare-ups

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684873947
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 1/28/2001
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jerome Schofferman, M.D., is a member of the SpineCare Medical Group, a nationally known center for the treatment of disorders of the spine, and the director of research and education for the San Francisco Spine Institute. An associate editor of Spine, he has lectured to orthopedic and neurosurgeons, pain specialists, and other physician groups, as well as to the insurance industry and the general public. He lives in Sausalito, California.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Neck pain has become one of the most common problems in our society. In fact, neck pain is so prevalent that we have come to accept it as a normal part of a busy fife. Neck pain can affect anyone — office workers, computer scientists, writers, athletes, and manual laborers. Because you are reading this book, either you or someone you know probably has neck pain and may be frustrated by the lack of good information available. But help is at hand. Although there are some gaps in our scientific understanding of neck pain, we have sufficient knowledge to make useful recommendations about diagnosis and treatment to help most people.

We do not know exactly how many people suffer from neck pain, but the number is in the tens of millions. One study estimated that in any year, at least one-third of adults has an episode of neck pain! Even worse, approximately 15 percent of those people have chronic or recurrent neck pain. The goal of this book is to help you understand the causes of neck pain, and to provide you with effective and safe techniques to relieve it. Another goal is to provide you with guidelines to determine when or if you need professional care. And if you need help, the facts in this book should enable you to communicate better with your doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist in order to optimize your care, and to become an active participant in it.

Neck pain is usually due to mechanical problems with one or more parts of the neck. It is rare for neck pain to be due to a serious illness like cancer or infection, but that said, the consequences of chronic and severe neck pain can be very serious. Some people are unable to work and may lose their jobs. Others cannot enjoy a social life, travel, or sports. Others may become irritable or depressed and develop marital and family problems. The financial consequences can also be dire: large amounts of money are spent on health care and disability payments each year because of neck pain.

Fortunately, there is hope for neck pain sufferers. There are highly qualified physicians, chiropractors, and physical therapists who specialize in spine problems. However, much of the upto-date knowledge needed to help patients has not yet filtered down to the general orthopedist, family practitioner, or neurologist. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the person with neck pain to be informed. Even more important, the information and techniques in this book will help most people with neck pain get better without professional care.

People with chronic neck pain may initially try massage therapists, chiropractors, or acupuncturists. If they don't get better, they will see physical therapists, physicians, and finally surgeons. Frequently the initial treatment works and their condition improves. However, too often, pain recurs and the patient seeks help elsewhere.

In my practice, I see this pattern all the time and have learned that there are no quick and easy solutions to neck pain. It takes work and time to get better, and the patient must be an active participant. Treatment must be both aggressive and active. Too often, patients have had only passive treatment. They have been treated with massage and manual therapy, heat packs and cold packs, and vitamins and herbs, but they have not been given the skills, knowledge, and training to play an active role in getting better. Fortunately, most people will respond to good conservative care that is scientifically based and sensitive to the needs of each patient.

However, even with excellent care, a small number of people still do not get better. Then the patient will need more aggressive forms of treatment that require the expertise of a spine specialist. Some patients will need spinal injections; some may even need surgery. Because each person is different, we need individualized treatment options. It is best to start simple and get more complex if necessary.

I never tell people to learn to live with the pain. Instead, I teach people how to overcome the pain. In this book, I will offer active and safe treatments that usually lead to improvement, or even total relief. I will offer advice based on my own extensive experience, coupled with the best scientific information available. However, I do not have any secrets or miracles. My treatment plan requires hard work and a commitment of time and energy. No single treatment works for everyone, so I will provide several treatment options. I will start with the fundamentals of strength training and body mechanics. If done correctly and diligently, these methods will often be effective treatment for most people. If not, these basic elements will provide the background necessary for the more aggressive treatments that I will recommend, most of which require professional care.

The premise of this book is simple. A person with neck pain must understand the anatomy and function of the neck. It is also very useful to know how our bodies transmit pain messages from the neck or other site of injury to the brain. Knowledge is power — power over pain. When you know the cause of the pain, you can develop treatment strategies that are specific for you. Some will be simple, such as rearranging your desk, workstation, and computer height or using your chair properly. Other strategies will be more complex, and will require a daily exercise routine and perhaps a few changes in lifestyle.

Most patients with long-standing neck pain will have flareups, despite being faithful to their programs. There are ways to help alleviate these intermittent flares, which I call "neck first aid." I will discuss the posture of the neck rest position, use of over-the-counter medications, proper use of ice, and a series of pain neutralization exercises, all geared to relieving the pain of flares.

In the remainder of this introductory chapter, I will present an overview of the problem of neck pain. I will introduce the subjects that I will discuss in detail later in the book. I recommend that you initially read or scan the book from beginning to end, and then return to the specific chapters that seem most important for you. This is especially true for the reader who is not familiar with medical or anatomic words and terms.

NECK PAIN IN THE GENERAL POPULATION

Almost everybody has had pain or stiffness in the neck at one time or another. In fact, we tend to accept neck pain as a normal part of life, and usually it goes away in a day or two without treatment. To try and determine the prevalence of neck pain in the general population, a group of medical researchers sent questionnaires to 10,000 people and asked if they had troublesome neck pain in the previous year, and, if so, how long it lasted. They found that 34 percent of those who answered the questionnaires had troublesome neck pain in the past year, and 14 percent had pain that lasted for more than six months!

Another survey found that at any one time, 22 percent of people have neck pain that is bothersome and two-thirds of people have had significant neck pain at some time in their lives. These studies make it clear that neck pain is a major health problem.

THE CAUSES OF NECK PAIN: WHAT HURTS AND WHY

The neck serves two basic functions. It is a pipeline for blood, nerves, food, and air, and it is a pedestal to hold up and support the head. Most of the problems that cause neck pain are due to damage to the pedestal and involve injuries to discs or joints. In addition, neck muscles may tire out and fatigue because of poor posture or overuse, contributing to the pain, but rarely being the underlying problem. When a person keeps his or her head in one position all day, there are stresses placed on the discs, joints, and/or muscles, resulting in pain.

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

Many people are reluctant to go to a medical doctor for neck pain, partly because it seems like such a trivial problem, and are more likely to go to a massage therapist or chiropractor. However, if the pain persists, is very severe, or does not respond to chiropractic care or over-the-counter medications, it is time to see a physician.

There are also situations when you should go to a physician directly, rather than seeing another kind of health care provider first. If the neck pain is mild or absent, but there is severe pain in one or both arms, there may be pressure on a nerve in the neck, usually due to a disc herniation. This requires the evaluation of a doctor. If one or both arms become weak and you drop things or have difficulty lifting light objects, it is time to see a physician. The same is true if the neck pain becomes so severe that you are not able to go to work or do even simple household tasks. If there is a loss of bowel or bladder control, you should go to an emergency room immediately. None of these symptoms necessarily means that there is an emergency or that surgery is necessary, but they do mean that medical evaluation is required.

In other instances, it is optional to see a physician, and I make specific recommendations in chapter 11. However, if you are not getting better after three to six weeks of alternative health care, it is time to see a doctor. The doctor may need to order tests such as X-rays or an MRI scan. In addition, the doctor may be able to offer short-term relief by prescribing antiinflammatory medications or other medications for pain. If the condition still does not improve, it may be necessary to do spinal injections, which can be very effective.

It is rare to need surgery for neck problems, but occasionally surgery is the best answer. Only a spine specialist can help you make this decision.

NECK-RELATED HEADACHES

It is estimated that about 16 percent of people suffer from headaches that occur sufficiently often to interfere with their lives. There are many types of headaches, including migraine headache, tension headache, cluster headache, and headache due to neck problems. A headache that occurs as a result of a disorder of the neck is properly called cervicogenic headache, but I use the term "neck-related headache" in this book.

Neck-related headaches occur in about 2.5 percent of people and account for about 15 percent of headaches that occur more than five days a month. They are almost as common as migraines, a type of headache that is often misunderstood. All types of headaches can cause severe pain, not just migraines. A migraine is a specific type of headache, not just a severe or "sick" headache. I believe that some people who are diagnosed with "tension-type headaches" and some who are diagnosed with migraine headaches actually have neck-related headaches. It is important to distinguish neck-related headaches from migraines and "tension-type" headaches when possible, because the treatments are different. The headache problem is important and discussed in detail in chapter 6.

NECK PAIN AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT (WHIPLASH)

A significant number of people who are in motor vehicle accidents develop pain in the neck, shoulders, head, or the base of the skull. This group of symptoms is often called whiplash. Fortunately, most patients with whiplash recover in a few weeks, or at most a few months. However, about 10 percent to 15 percent of people do not get better, and they develop chronic pain. Whiplash is not a trivial problem. When neck pain occurs after a car accident, up to 3 0 percent of people still have pain one year later and 18 percent still have pain after two years.

There are many symptoms that may occur with whiplash in addition to neck pain, and at times they are sufficiently unusual to seem crazy. Some of these associated symptoms include sleep problems, poor concentration and memory, blurry vision, ringing in the ears, fatigue, and weakness.

The treatment for whiplash syndromes depends on the stage and degree of the problem and which structures have been injured. Almost all patients suffer from some form of soft tissue injury, usually strain of the muscles or ligaments. These strains or sprains heal over weeks or months and most patients improve. If pain persists, then it is likely that other structures, such as discs or joints injured. In addition, patients joints, were a who are encouraged to continue normal activities rather than resting also appear to do better.

There are many misunderstandings about the causes and treatments of whiplash. Perhaps the most controversial aspects are the effects of litigation on the rate of recovery. Whiplash is discussed in detail in chapters 4 and 5.

TREATMENT OF CHRONIC NECK PAIN

One ideal goal of medical care is primary prevention — avoiding a problem before it starts. The public is well acquainted with the primary prevention of heart disease, and we are all familiar with the recommendations to eat less fat, avoid cigarettes, and keep blood pressure normal. Similarly, primary prevention for neck pain requires exercising regularly and using good posture. Once a person has neck pain, it is obvious that primary prevention is no longer an option. The goal then shifts to pain relief and prevention of recurrences — called secondary prevention.

Proper care for the neck is simple in theory, but complicated to carry out in reality. The most important things a person can do to stay well include developing and maintaining good neck posture during rest and activity, and developing and maintaining sufficient strength in the muscles of the neck and upper back. In medical language, we refer to body positioning and posture as body mechanics. Good body mechanics must be maintained when you sit at a desk or in a chair reading, and when you participate in sports or work.

Most of us have neck muscles that are too weak to maintain good posture or to use good body mechanics for more than a few minutes at a time. Using good body mechanics and getting strong, will solve the problem of neck pain for most people. The trick is to know what to do and how to do it. That is the essence of this book.

BODY MECHANICS AND EXERCISE

I have already mentioned that the most important things you can do to treat neck pain are to use good body mechanics and to get strong. The challenge is to find an exercise program that fits your own particular needs and lifestyle and to modify your body mechanics in ways that still let you do what you need to do.

The basic concept of body mechanics is surprisingly simple. The proper posture is one in which your chest is up, your chin is parallel to the floor, and your head is balanced between your shoulders, neither too far forward nor too far back. You must "sit tall." I am not suggesting a military posture, but one that is balanced and comfortable. You should be in this position whether sitting at a desk or playing sports. Motion of your head on the neck should occur primarily at the "hinge" at the top of the neck near the back of the jaw. The goal is to maintain this position standing up, sitting down, bending forward, and during all activities of daily living. Posture and body mechanics are discussed in detail in chapter 9.

The basics of neck muscle strengthening are also simple. You need to perform exercises on a daily basis to strengthen the muscles in the front of the neck, the back of the neck, and between the shoulder blades. All of these exercises can be done at home or in a gym, and I discuss the details of an exercise program in chapter 8.

PAIN MEDICATIONS

Most people with chronic neck pain have taken pain medications. Advertisers promote products that relieve all types of aches and pains. Each advertiser claims to have the best product, which leaves the consumer with an overwhelming amount of conflicting information. Fortunately, there are scientific answers to help the consumer decide which medications work best for each situation and which are safest.

There are three types of over-the-counter medications that are useful for neck pain. There are drugs that contain aspirin as the main ingredient. Examples of aspirin-based pain medications are regular aspirin, aspirin that is coated to partially protect the stomach, Excedrin, and Bufferin. There are products that contain acetaminophen as the main pain reliever such as Tylenol. Lastly, there are anti-inflammatory medications that contain either ibuprofen or naproxen. Some products add other active ingredients such as caffeine.

There are also many medications that are available only by prescription. These drugs are usually more potent than the medications sold over-the-counter. There are stronger antiinflammatories, including some that can be taken just once a day, and provide twenty-four hours of relief. There are, in addition, medications that work on the brain to relieve pain. Other adjunctive medications that work on the complex pain pathways can be used in special circumstances and are very effective. Medications are discussed in detail in chapter 10.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CARE

There are many treatments available for the person with neck pain. I divide the treatments into two general categories: passive and active. Passive treatments are things that a health care provider does to the patient. Active treatments are things the person does for himself or herself. Examples of passive treatments are massage, chiropractic, physical therapy that is only heat or ultrasound, and acupuncture. Active treatments include exercises and body mechanics training.

Passive treatments feel good while they are being administered. Although they rarely, if ever, do harm, they rarely do anything to improve the long-term outcome. 'Active treatments, such as those advocated in this book, can give a person the necessary skills and strengths to feel better and stay better.

Many people in this country seek alternative care rather than more traditional medical help from a physician. They may prefer remedies that are "natural" and that have been used for hundreds or thousands of years. Some alternative therapies do work, but most have never been tested in a scientific manner. I discuss alternative and complementary therapies in chapter 14 and chiropractors in chapter 12.

NECK PAIN AND SPORTS

Physical activity is generally good for neck pain. However, some sports can cause neck pain or make it worse when body mechanics are poor. I teach patients that it is not what you do, it is how you do it, and emphasize that most people can return to most sports when they are strong enough and trained to use proper body mechanics.

There are some sports that are difficult to do with neck pain. Bicycling requires careful attention to positioning on the bike so that the head is not bent too far forward or backward. Squash and racquetball both require a lot of twisting at the neck and are hard to do well while protecting the neck. The serve and overhead shots of tennis also are difficult to do properly. However, a person with neck pain can do all of these sports after instruction and practice in proper techniques. Neck pain in relation to sports and other recreational activities such as gardening is discussed in chapter 15.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN

Every person who has a neck injury, and especially those with chronic pain, have some form of psychological response. Some people feel anxious and might wonder if they will ever feel normal again. They worry that they will not be able to work, have a good family life, and play sports. Other people with chronic pain get depressed. They may suffer from problems sleeping and feel tired all the time.

There are also psychological problems that can make pain worse, but it is rare for pain to be purely psychological. However, whether the pain causes psychological problems or makes psychological problems worse, when psychological problems are present, they need to be treated. Many patients feel that if the pain got better, their psychological problems would go away, too. However, this is not always the case. Once established, the psychological problem has a life of its own. For a person to get better and stay better, both the physical injury and the psychological problems must be treated. I have discussed psychological problems and chronic pain in chapter 16, and I have outlined a program for self-help in chapter 17.

Copyright © 2001 by Jerome Schofferman, M.D.

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Table of Contents

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Causes of Neck Pain: Where Does the Pain Come From?
  3. How to Make the Diagnosis of Neck Pain
  4. Whiplash and Whiplash-Associated Disorders
  5. Whiplash and the Legal System
  6. Neck-Related Headaches
  7. Treatment of Acute Neck Pain: Neck First Aid
  8. Treatment of Neck Pain: Exercise and Strength Training
  9. Treatment of Neck Pain: Posture and Body Mechanics
  10. Treatment of Neck Pain: Medications
  11. Treatment of Neck Pain: The Role of the Physician
  12. Treatment of Neck Pain: The Role of the Chiropractor
  13. Treatment of Neck Pain: The Role of the Physical Therapist
  14. Treatment of Neck Pain: Alternative and Complementary Therapies
  15. Sports and Other Recreational Activities
  16. The Psychology of Pain
  17. Psychological Problems and Chronic Pain: What You Can Do
  18. Conclusions and Future Directions

Appendix A: Selected Readings

Appendix B: Health Care Resources

Index

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Introduction

Introduction

Neck pain has become one of the most common problems in our society. In fact, neck pain is so prevalent that we have come to accept it as a normal part of a busy fife. Neck pain can affect anyone -- office workers, computer scientists, writers, athletes, and manual laborers. Because you are reading this book, either you or someone you know probably has neck pain and may be frustrated by the lack of good information available. But help is at hand. Although there are some gaps in our scientific understanding of neck pain, we have sufficient knowledge to make useful recommendations about diagnosis and treatment to help most people.

We do not know exactly how many people suffer from neck pain, but the number is in the tens of millions. One study estimated that in any year, at least one-third of adults has an episode of neck pain! Even worse, approximately 15 percent of those people have chronic or recurrent neck pain. The goal of this book is to help you understand the causes of neck pain, and to provide you with effective and safe techniques to relieve it. Another goal is to provide you with guidelines to determine when or if you need professional care. And if you need help, the facts in this book should enable you to communicate better with your doctor, chiropractor, or physical therapist in order to optimize your care, and to become an active participant in it.

Neck pain is usually due to mechanical problems with one or more parts of the neck. It is rare for neck pain to be due to a serious illness like cancer or infection, but that said, the consequences of chronic and severe neck pain can be very serious. Some people are unable to work and may lose their jobs. Others cannot enjoy a social life, travel, or sports. Others may become irritable or depressed and develop marital and family problems. The financial consequences can also be dire: large amounts of money are spent on health care and disability payments each year because of neck pain.

Fortunately, there is hope for neck pain sufferers. There are highly qualified physicians, chiropractors, and physical therapists who specialize in spine problems. However, much of the upto-date knowledge needed to help patients has not yet filtered down to the general orthopedist, family practitioner, or neurologist. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the person with neck pain to be informed. Even more important, the information and techniques in this book will help most people with neck pain get better without professional care.

People with chronic neck pain may initially try massage therapists, chiropractors, or acupuncturists. If they don't get better, they will see physical therapists, physicians, and finally surgeons. Frequently the initial treatment works and their condition improves. However, too often, pain recurs and the patient seeks help elsewhere.

In my practice, I see this pattern all the time and have learned that there are no quick and easy solutions to neck pain. It takes work and time to get better, and the patient must be an active participant. Treatment must be both aggressive and active. Too often, patients have had only passive treatment. They have been treated with massage and manual therapy, heat packs and cold packs, and vitamins and herbs, but they have not been given the skills, knowledge, and training to play an active role in getting better. Fortunately, most people will respond to good conservative care that is scientifically based and sensitive to the needs of each patient.

However, even with excellent care, a small number of people still do not get better. Then the patient will need more aggressive forms of treatment that require the expertise of a spine specialist. Some patients will need spinal injections; some may even need surgery. Because each person is different, we need individualized treatment options. It is best to start simple and get more complex if necessary.

I never tell people to learn to live with the pain. Instead, I teach people how to overcome the pain. In this book, I will offer active and safe treatments that usually lead to improvement, or even total relief. I will offer advice based on my own extensive experience, coupled with the best scientific information available. However, I do not have any secrets or miracles. My treatment plan requires hard work and a commitment of time and energy. No single treatment works for everyone, so I will provide several treatment options. I will start with the fundamentals of strength training and body mechanics. If done correctly and diligently, these methods will often be effective treatment for most people. If not, these basic elements will provide the background necessary for the more aggressive treatments that I will recommend, most of which require professional care.

The premise of this book is simple. A person with neck pain must understand the anatomy and function of the neck. It is also very useful to know how our bodies transmit pain messages from the neck or other site of injury to the brain. Knowledge is power -- power over pain. When you know the cause of the pain, you can develop treatment strategies that are specific for you. Some will be simple, such as rearranging your desk, workstation, and computer height or using your chair properly. Other strategies will be more complex, and will require a daily exercise routine and perhaps a few changes in lifestyle.

Most patients with long-standing neck pain will have flareups, despite being faithful to their programs. There are ways to help alleviate these intermittent flares, which I call "neck first aid." I will discuss the posture of the neck rest position, use of over-the-counter medications, proper use of ice, and a series of pain neutralization exercises, all geared to relieving the pain of flares.

In the remainder of this introductory chapter, I will present an overview of the problem of neck pain. I will introduce the subjects that I will discuss in detail later in the book. I recommend that you initially read or scan the book from beginning to end, and then return to the specific chapters that seem most important for you. This is especially true for the reader who is not familiar with medical or anatomic words and terms.

NECK PAIN IN THE GENERAL POPULATION

Almost everybody has had pain or stiffness in the neck at one time or another. In fact, we tend to accept neck pain as a normal part of life, and usually it goes away in a day or two without treatment. To try and determine the prevalence of neck pain in the general population, a group of medical researchers sent questionnaires to 10,000 people and asked if they had troublesome neck pain in the previous year, and, if so, how long it lasted. They found that 34 percent of those who answered the questionnaires had troublesome neck pain in the past year, and 14 percent had pain that lasted for more than six months!

Another survey found that at any one time, 22 percent of people have neck pain that is bothersome and two-thirds of people have had significant neck pain at some time in their lives. These studies make it clear that neck pain is a major health problem.

THE CAUSES OF NECK PAIN: WHAT HURTS AND WHY

The neck serves two basic functions. It is a pipeline for blood, nerves, food, and air, and it is a pedestal to hold up and support the head. Most of the problems that cause neck pain are due to damage to the pedestal and involve injuries to discs or joints. In addition, neck muscles may tire out and fatigue because of poor posture or overuse, contributing to the pain, but rarely being the underlying problem. When a person keeps his or her head in one position all day, there are stresses placed on the discs, joints, and/or muscles, resulting in pain.

WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR

Many people are reluctant to go to a medical doctor for neck pain, partly because it seems like such a trivial problem, and are more likely to go to a massage therapist or chiropractor. However, if the pain persists, is very severe, or does not respond to chiropractic care or over-the-counter medications, it is time to see a physician.

There are also situations when you should go to a physician directly, rather than seeing another kind of health care provider first. If the neck pain is mild or absent, but there is severe pain in one or both arms, there may be pressure on a nerve in the neck, usually due to a disc herniation. This requires the evaluation of a doctor. If one or both arms become weak and you drop things or have difficulty lifting light objects, it is time to see a physician. The same is true if the neck pain becomes so severe that you are not able to go to work or do even simple household tasks. If there is a loss of bowel or bladder control, you should go to an emergency room immediately. None of these symptoms necessarily means that there is an emergency or that surgery is necessary, but they do mean that medical evaluation is required.

In other instances, it is optional to see a physician, and I make specific recommendations in chapter 11. However, if you are not getting better after three to six weeks of alternative health care, it is time to see a doctor. The doctor may need to order tests such as X-rays or an MRI scan. In addition, the doctor may be able to offer short-term relief by prescribing antiinflammatory medications or other medications for pain. If the condition still does not improve, it may be necessary to do spinal injections, which can be very effective.

It is rare to need surgery for neck problems, but occasionally surgery is the best answer. Only a spine specialist can help you make this decision.

NECK-RELATED HEADACHES

It is estimated that about 16 percent of people suffer from headaches that occur sufficiently often to interfere with their lives. There are many types of headaches, including migraine headache, tension headache, cluster headache, and headache due to neck problems. A headache that occurs as a result of a disorder of the neck is properly called cervicogenic headache, but I use the term "neck-related headache" in this book.

Neck-related headaches occur in about 2.5 percent of people and account for about 15 percent of headaches that occur more than five days a month. They are almost as common as migraines, a type of headache that is often misunderstood. All types of headaches can cause severe pain, not just migraines. A migraine is a specific type of headache, not just a severe or "sick" headache. I believe that some people who are diagnosed with "tension-type headaches" and some who are diagnosed with migraine headaches actually have neck-related headaches. It is important to distinguish neck-related headaches from migraines and "tension-type" headaches when possible, because the treatments are different. The headache problem is important and discussed in detail in chapter 6.

NECK PAIN AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT (WHIPLASH)

A significant number of people who are in motor vehicle accidents develop pain in the neck, shoulders, head, or the base of the skull. This group of symptoms is often called whiplash. Fortunately, most patients with whiplash recover in a few weeks, or at most a few months. However, about 10 percent to 15 percent of people do not get better, and they develop chronic pain. Whiplash is not a trivial problem. When neck pain occurs after a car accident, up to 3 0 percent of people still have pain one year later and 18 percent still have pain after two years.

There are many symptoms that may occur with whiplash in addition to neck pain, and at times they are sufficiently unusual to seem crazy. Some of these associated symptoms include sleep problems, poor concentration and memory, blurry vision, ringing in the ears, fatigue, and weakness.

The treatment for whiplash syndromes depends on the stage and degree of the problem and which structures have been injured. Almost all patients suffer from some form of soft tissue injury, usually strain of the muscles or ligaments. These strains or sprains heal over weeks or months and most patients improve. If pain persists, then it is likely that other structures, such as discs or joints injured. In addition, patients joints, were a who are encouraged to continue normal activities rather than resting also appear to do better.

There are many misunderstandings about the causes and treatments of whiplash. Perhaps the most controversial aspects are the effects of litigation on the rate of recovery. Whiplash is discussed in detail in chapters 4 and 5.

TREATMENT OF CHRONIC NECK PAIN

One ideal goal of medical care is primary prevention -- avoiding a problem before it starts. The public is well acquainted with the primary prevention of heart disease, and we are all familiar with the recommendations to eat less fat, avoid cigarettes, and keep blood pressure normal. Similarly, primary prevention for neck pain requires exercising regularly and using good posture. Once a person has neck pain, it is obvious that primary prevention is no longer an option. The goal then shifts to pain relief and prevention of recurrences -- called secondary prevention.

Proper care for the neck is simple in theory, but complicated to carry out in reality. The most important things a person can do to stay well include developing and maintaining good neck posture during rest and activity, and developing and maintaining sufficient strength in the muscles of the neck and upper back. In medical language, we refer to body positioning and posture as body mechanics. Good body mechanics must be maintained when you sit at a desk or in a chair reading, and when you participate in sports or work.

Most of us have neck muscles that are too weak to maintain good posture or to use good body mechanics for more than a few minutes at a time. Using good body mechanics and getting strong, will solve the problem of neck pain for most people. The trick is to know what to do and how to do it. That is the essence of this book.

BODY MECHANICS AND EXERCISE

I have already mentioned that the most important things you can do to treat neck pain are to use good body mechanics and to get strong. The challenge is to find an exercise program that fits your own particular needs and lifestyle and to modify your body mechanics in ways that still let you do what you need to do.

The basic concept of body mechanics is surprisingly simple. The proper posture is one in which your chest is up, your chin is parallel to the floor, and your head is balanced between your shoulders, neither too far forward nor too far back. You must "sit tall." I am not suggesting a military posture, but one that is balanced and comfortable. You should be in this position whether sitting at a desk or playing sports. Motion of your head on the neck should occur primarily at the "hinge" at the top of the neck near the back of the jaw. The goal is to maintain this position standing up, sitting down, bending forward, and during all activities of daily living. Posture and body mechanics are discussed in detail in chapter 9.

The basics of neck muscle strengthening are also simple. You need to perform exercises on a daily basis to strengthen the muscles in the front of the neck, the back of the neck, and between the shoulder blades. All of these exercises can be done at home or in a gym, and I discuss the details of an exercise program in chapter 8.

PAIN MEDICATIONS

Most people with chronic neck pain have taken pain medications. Advertisers promote products that relieve all types of aches and pains. Each advertiser claims to have the best product, which leaves the consumer with an overwhelming amount of conflicting information. Fortunately, there are scientific answers to help the consumer decide which medications work best for each situation and which are safest.

There are three types of over-the-counter medications that are useful for neck pain. There are drugs that contain aspirin as the main ingredient. Examples of aspirin-based pain medications are regular aspirin, aspirin that is coated to partially protect the stomach, Excedrin, and Bufferin. There are products that contain acetaminophen as the main pain reliever such as Tylenol. Lastly, there are anti-inflammatory medications that contain either ibuprofen or naproxen. Some products add other active ingredients such as caffeine.

There are also many medications that are available only by prescription. These drugs are usually more potent than the medications sold over-the-counter. There are stronger antiinflammatories, including some that can be taken just once a day, and provide twenty-four hours of relief. There are, in addition, medications that work on the brain to relieve pain. Other adjunctive medications that work on the complex pain pathways can be used in special circumstances and are very effective. Medications are discussed in detail in chapter 10.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CARE

There are many treatments available for the person with neck pain. I divide the treatments into two general categories: passive and active. Passive treatments are things that a health care provider does to the patient. Active treatments are things the person does for himself or herself. Examples of passive treatments are massage, chiropractic, physical therapy that is only heat or ultrasound, and acupuncture. Active treatments include exercises and body mechanics training.

Passive treatments feel good while they are being administered. Although they rarely, if ever, do harm, they rarely do anything to improve the long-term outcome. 'Active treatments, such as those advocated in this book, can give a person the necessary skills and strengths to feel better and stay better.

Many people in this country seek alternative care rather than more traditional medical help from a physician. They may prefer remedies that are "natural" and that have been used for hundreds or thousands of years. Some alternative therapies do work, but most have never been tested in a scientific manner. I discuss alternative and complementary therapies in chapter 14 and chiropractors in chapter 12.

NECK PAIN AND SPORTS

Physical activity is generally good for neck pain. However, some sports can cause neck pain or make it worse when body mechanics are poor. I teach patients that it is not what you do, it is how you do it, and emphasize that most people can return to most sports when they are strong enough and trained to use proper body mechanics.

There are some sports that are difficult to do with neck pain. Bicycling requires careful attention to positioning on the bike so that the head is not bent too far forward or backward. Squash and racquetball both require a lot of twisting at the neck and are hard to do well while protecting the neck. The serve and overhead shots of tennis also are difficult to do properly. However, a person with neck pain can do all of these sports after instruction and practice in proper techniques. Neck pain in relation to sports and other recreational activities such as gardening is discussed in chapter 15.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF PAIN

Every person who has a neck injury, and especially those with chronic pain, have some form of psychological response. Some people feel anxious and might wonder if they will ever feel normal again. They worry that they will not be able to work, have a good family life, and play sports. Other people with chronic pain get depressed. They may suffer from problems sleeping and feel tired all the time.

There are also psychological problems that can make pain worse, but it is rare for pain to be purely psychological. However, whether the pain causes psychological problems or makes psychological problems worse, when psychological problems are present, they need to be treated. Many patients feel that if the pain got better, their psychological problems would go away, too. However, this is not always the case. Once established, the psychological problem has a life of its own. For a person to get better and stay better, both the physical injury and the psychological problems must be treated. I have discussed psychological problems and chronic pain in chapter 16, and I have outlined a program for self-help in chapter 17.

Copyright © 2001 by Jerome Schofferman, M.D.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2003

    Honest and Positve - There is hope for your neck pain!

    Dr Schofferman covers all of the important topics. Most are but, not all, are covered to an excellent level of detail. Treatments with which he is most familiar get the greatest amount of coverage. So Chiropractic and high end tech gadgets get glossed over (like spinal stimulators which are applicable in only a few special cases). What he does present is a solid system of physical and mental exercises that he claims put the greater fraction of his patients back to health. He also explains why treating the entire problem is critical to success. (My description says "20 years of neck pain experience". I am on the receiving end of the pain and not a MD. I just want to make that clear - I just didn't want to use the word "sufferer" or anything like that.)

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