One of the most prevalent conditions chiropractors encounter and treat is neck pain.
According to a National Institute of Health Statistics (NIHS) national survey, neck pain is the second most common type of pain in the United States (following back pain and on par with headaches and migraines).
An estimated 75 percent of Americans will be affected by neck pain at some point in their lives.
As specialists in the musculoskeletal system, chiropractors are the ideal healthcare practitioners to treat problems related to the neck.
The Cervical Spine
The neck comprises the portion of the spine referred to as the “cervical spine.” This curved part of the spine consists of the initial seven vertebrae, beginning at the base of the skull at the C1 (atlas) vertebrae and ending at the thoracic spine. One of three curves in your spine, the cervical curve is essential to overall spine health.
Any misalignment or reduction in this area of the body can cause headaches, pain, stiffness, migraines and more.
It is important to note that it can take years for pain or other issues to arise, which is why it is critical to get checked in order to prevent or mitigate potential health issues.
The Four Commonly Seen Cervical Curves
There are four different classifications of curvatures in the cervical spine—all of which can be identified through an X-ray. Our doctors typically encounter these four different types of curves in patients:
- Lordotic: This is a healthy, normal curvature in the neck—which is about 42 degrees when standing up straight. Think of it as a c-shaped curve that faces the opposite way your nose points.
- Reverse Curve/Kyphotic: This is an unnatural curve—and the kind of curve you want to avoid. This means that your neck has completely lost its correct curve and is now curving the opposite direction, connecting your thoracic and cervical curves.
- “S” Curve: The most difficult curve to correct, the “S” curve is when the spine has a lordotic and kyphotic curve.
Hypolordotic/Alordotic. This means that there is no curve or a decreased curve in the neck. In an X-ray, the neck may look straight.
Why is the Cervical Curve Important?
The curves in the spine act as shock absorbers for numerous body parts. If the appropriate curves are absent, the joints and discs will experience increased pressure.
To give you a sense of how this might feel: imagine jumping off a ledge without the ability to bend your knees. This is the kind of pressure your joints and discs are under when you don’t have the proper curvature in your neck.
This is not the only issue improper curves present. An unhealthy curve may also cause premature deterioration of the discs and joint spaces of the spine.
This deterioration can lead to neurological symptoms later on, as well as premature joint fusion and arthritis.
How Do I Know if I Have a Healthy Curve?
The best way to know if you have a healthy curve in your neck is to be examined by your chiropractor. X-rays and physical exams can help the doctor determine the type of curve you have and the best methods of treatment.
Remember: Pain is a late signal of an issue.
Even if you are not currently feeling any pain, it is important to take proactive steps and have regular spinal assessments and adjustments.
Many patients experiencing neck pain and stiffness have a reduced curvature in their neck. Certain spinal adjustments and supportive exercises are designed to help restore the neck to the ideal (lordotic) curve.
Shortly after treatment starts, many patients feel improvements, including a reduction or even elimination of pain.
It’s essential to continue treatment even after your symptoms have subsided, as it takes time to restore a healthy curve.