A Pain in the Neck: Types, treatment and management of neck pain (5 min read)
Dr. William Dao (Osteopath)
DG Health Richmond
- 50% of all Australians experience neck pain in their lifetime
- Middle aged females have the highest rates of neck pain
- Neck pain is categorised as: Mechanical, Referred or Radicular
- Osteopaths are trained in helping diagnosing and managing different types of neck pain
Who gets it?
Have you had neck pain before? If so, you are a part of the 50% of the entire Australian population that experience neck pain over their lifetime. The highest incidence of neck pain is in middle aged people, with females having greater representation than their male counterparts. That being said, a more appropriate risk factor for neck pain has been shown in those whose occupation requires them to have their arms elevated to or above shoulder height such as: hairdressers, tradespersons and other manual laborers, teachers, long haul drivers and desk bound workers. As osteopaths we see a variation of neck pain almost everyday, some would even go as far as saying it’s our bread and butter.
Structure & Function of the neck
The anatomy of the neck or cervical spine consists of seven cervical vertebrae, which are connected via facet joints and strong fibrous-cartilaginous structures called intervertebral discs. Fortifying the neck joints are strong band-like ligaments and postural muscles which add further stability to the neck to support the head (think of a golf ball on a tee). Further, I like to think of the neck as the ‘switchboard to the upper limb’ as it houses the origins of the nerves (power cord) which will go on to supply the skin, muscles and tissues of the shoulder, wrist and hand (appliances). The neck also plays a key role in drainage of fluids from the head such as blood and lymphatics to maintain optimal pressure for our head’s vital organs to function as they should.
Biomechanically, the neck is the most flexible portion of the spine. From an evolutionary perspective, this allowed us to absorb more sensory information from our environment for survival (picture yourself looking around and listening for a potential predator). Fast forward to today’s landscape, and our necks are generally parked behind a computer screen, looking down at our phone or up at the DIY project that’s taking too many weekends to complete. This is where I believe our neck pain is generally stemming from, not enough movement!
Types of neck pain
a) Most common – Mechanical neck pain
Mechanical neck pain is described as irritation or damage to the joints, muscles, ligaments and discs. This typically occurs due to prolonged exposure to low insult forces e.g. prolonged computer postures or by an acute exposure to high grade insult e.g. whiplash. Some other causes of mechanical neck pain include pain from arthritis and muscular strain.
b) Always to be considered – Referred neck pain
Referred neck pain is pain felt in other areas of the body such as the head, mid back and arms where the primary tissue causing symptom is located in the neck. For example, cervicogenic headaches are a kind of headache which are generally felt in the forehead but are actually caused by dysfunction of structures located in the upper neck.
c) Less common – Radicular arm pain (nerve type pain)
Radicular arm pain is pain felt in the arm which is due to physical or inflammatory compression of the exiting nerve root (issue with the switchboard and exiting power cord to your appliance). This type of pain is characterised by pain in the arm that is generally sharp, lancinating and feels like an electric shock. Often, there are accompanying pins and needles, sometimes weakness in the hand. If you’re experiencing this type of pain, it is important to consult your healthcare professional immediately as if left untreated, can cause long term complications.
Osteopathic management of neck pain
Osteopaths are highly trained in the diagnosis and management of neck pain. Their 5 year university degree covers the anatomy and physiology of the neck, as well as the clinical diagnosis and management of both musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal conditions.
As you are now aware, not all neck pain is created equal. This means that the history taking and examination process is of utmost importance. The information gathered here will shed light as to which type of neck pain is most likely present, so that an appropriate treatment and management plan is created. This may include, but not be limited to: hands on therapy and corrective exercise prescription, referral to other practitioners e.g. General Practitioner and referral for further radiological investigations such as X-rays and MRIs.
If you’re interested in understanding what type of neck pain you have and why you’ve developed it, get in touch with our team of caring practitioners at email@example.com
- Carrigan, E. (2020). Neck Pain. Retrieved 22 June 2020, from https://www.painmanagement.org.au/2014-09-11-13-34-03/2014-09-11-13-35-16/273-what-is-causing-my-neck-pain.html
- Bradley, P. (2017). Clinical Anatomy of the Neck. Symptom Oriented Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery: Head and Neck and Laryngology (Volume 1), 22-22. doi:10.5005/jp/books/12890_4