If we wake up in the morning with a stiff and painful neck, the propensity is to blame the condition on our pillow, bed, or sleep position during that night. We also try to figure out what is taking place when sudden neck movement causes a sharp pain that feels as if “something” has slipped out of position or that a nerve is being “pinched.” It is useful to understand that most neck problems are seldom caused by a single incident, but rather by the cumulative effects of incorrect sitting posture, bad work and living habits, lack of suitable exercise and flexibility, and other lifestyle-related factors. Naturally, some neck challenges are due to traumatic events such as a whiplash accident, a fall, or a sports injury.
In order to understand neck pain, it is necessary to understand the anatomy of the spine. The spinal bones or vertebrae of the neck consist of posterior joints, called facets, that connect vertebrae to one another and serve to pilot the motion of the spine. The inter-vertebral discs join the bodies of the vertebrae and are comprised of a form of dense cartilage that surrounds a soft material in the center, called the nucleus. The principal function of the disc is as a shock absorber and spacer between the vertebrae. The spinal cord is positioned between the facets of the vertebrae. The spinal nerves exit the spine between the vertebrae and provide the energy to make the muscles and other organs of the body function. They also carry impulses from the body to the brain with respect to pain, touch, position, temperature, as well as other senses. The nerves that go out from the neck are responsible for the entire upper extremity including the shoulder, elbow and hand, as well as structures of the head and neck. The natural forward curve of the neck balances the weight of the head and lessens stress on neck vertebrae.
Computer use has risen dramatically over the years, at home and in the workplace. Nowadays, a substantial amount of people spend eight to ten hours a day, or more, bent over a keyboard and staring at a monitor. Sitting with the head in a forward bent position (the posture most computer users assume), puts enormous strain on neck ligaments and muscles. Furthermore, the normal forward curve of the neck may become reversed and create more stress on the surrounding tissue of the neck. All of this can lead to spinal problems including disc herniation and subluxations, which are the principal causes of spinal nerve irritation. Besides general pain, spinal nerve irritation in the neck can generate symptoms including headaches, eye problems, arm and hand pain (and paraesthesia), as well as shoulder pain.
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