You ‘ve heard about it, or maybe even felt it from time to time, but we come across it every day! Yes, that uncomfortable neck pain that you have been experiencing, can really put a damper on your day and how you feel. It can affect everything from driving, basic conversation, attitude, or even sitting at your computer.
In many cases, we have seen neck pain that is accompanied by other symptoms such as shoulder pain, pain in between the shoulder blades, weakness, and even numbness and tingling into the hands. When the weakness, numbness and/or tingling occurs, it tends to be a little more severe. This can be due to an affected nerve root, or maybe you have heard the phrase, “I have a pinched nerve.” This is also known as radiculopathy. Radiculopathy’s can occur in the neck or the low back and is when one or more nerve roots are being irritated due to an injury. Some examples include disc herniation’s or disc bulges. The pressure and/or inflammation that occurs near the spine typically causes the nerve to become more sensitive. Many patients often report numbness or tingling in addition to their pain. If the neck is the area of injury, the arm, forearm or hands can likely be affected. This is because the nerve begins in the neck and ends in the hand. So if the nerve is being irritated in any way it can cause symptoms at any point along the nerve. If the lower back is the area of injury, you may be experiencing pain, numbness or tingling into the hip, pelvis, thigh, leg or even the feet. It is possible to have more than one nerve root affected at a time and this often results in multiple areas of the body experiencing pain.
“Hey, Doc, I just bent over to pick up a pen and my back/neck went out on me!” That is a line we hear all the time! Usually, within a few hours or days the patient typically tells us that they started to feel pain or other symptoms into their arms or hands.
Patients tend to believe that it was the act of bending over to pick up that pen that initially caused their pain. What most people don’t realize is that our bodies can handle a lot before we ever begin to feel any symptoms. Think about the last time you may have had a visit with your dentist. You go in for your routine check-up and usually have to get a set of x-rays. Oh no!….. a cavity! But you don’t feel any pain in your tooth. How can that be? Well that’s because it takes a certain amount of pressure or damage to be done before our brains can register the sensation of pain. What if we actually took care of the problem before enough damage was done to cause the sensation of pain or any other symptom?
Repetitive or improper use, lack of strength/flexibility, and what I call “poor spinal hygiene” or bad posture are some of the major causes and contributors to neck pain, back pain and of course, radicular nerve pain.
So, what is your next step? First, I recommend that you don’t take this lightly. You need to get evaluated by a medical professional, like a chiropractor, to make sure you can get a proper diagnosis of what the problem is and that your pain is not coming from another source. Then, most importantly you will be given a treatment plan that will not only help ease your pain but also fix your problem.
I often get dealt questions such as “how long will this take, what should I do, heat or ice, etc? When I first see a patient who has these problems my first objective is to One, Identify the problem. Two, Get you out of pain and three, correct the problem! As a healthcare professional, there are steps and specific goals that the doctor and patient have to take together before they can move forward with the care. Much like diet and exercises, you need to have a strong foundation before you can advance to the next level. The same is true for treatment of patients.
Phase I, which is known as the “Acute Phase,” is the period where the patient is in pain and has inflammation. In order to progress to the next stage, it is very important to reduce any inflammation and ease pain so that the patient can move into the next phase of care.
Phase 2, is the corrective phase. This is a stage of care where the doctor will start addressing the problem by restoring function to the bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Restoring the function of these structures will ensure that the body is aligned properly, moving correctly and your pain levels are continuing to decrease.
Phase 3, is called the stabilization phase. This is the most important phase. Continuing care and strengthening the area is of upmost importance. Making sure that the joint is “stable” and strong will increase the likelihood that your problem will not return.
Below are our top 5 steps of things you should do if you are experiencing neck and/or back pain with radicular (nerve/numbness/tingling) symptoms.
- 1. Get an evaluation in a timely matter –It is important to make sure you know what is going on with your body. Making sure that you are healthy is extremely important and you want to make sure that this condition is not only treatable but also not getting worse. Plus it takes less time and cost less to fix a problem in the beginning stages then waiting for it to become more severe.
- 2. Write some questions down to ask the doctor – Being informed and prepared is critical. Having a good working knowledge of your condition, when it started, how it occurred, and what you can do to help engages you and can accelerate your recovery time.
- 3. Be prepared to see other healthcare professionals – Sometimes you need to see other professionals to follow up with your care. XRAY,MRI, CT scans, EMG/NCV’s may be necessary to properly diagnose your condition. We want to have the appropriate information to best treat your condition.
- Inquire about an Anti-inflammatory diet and/or other natural was to reduce inflammation and pain – A large portion of pain is due to inflammation in the body. Things like arnica oil, essential oils, ice and diet are natural ways you can reduce inflammation within the body. Always ask us “how to” cut down your inflammation is an important way to decrease your level of pain and heal faster.
- Follow up with care and stay consistent – You likely didn’t hurt yourself due to a single event. It takes time for your body to heal but there are things such as rehabilitation and diet that can speed up the process. Having consistent care will only help your recovery, strengthen your body and fix the problem so it doesn’t occur again in the future.