In my 35 years of chiropractic practice I have seen patients of all ages who have experienced neck discomfort. In the majority of cases chiropractic care has been successful in providing relief from neck pain. On occasion however, some of my older patients who ultimately obtained relief, were somewhat skeptical when beginning care as to whether they could be helped. A surprising number of them thought they were too old and had been told by previous healthcare practitioners that “nothing could be done for them and they would have to just live with it.” This article will discuss a common cause for neck pain, what can be done to give relief of neck discomfort and recent scientific research pertaining to seniors with neck pain.
The majority of people suffering from a sore neck are experiencing a mechanical condition. In other words, there is a definite physical problem. Let’s first begin with some basic anatomy. The bones of the neck are called the cervical spine. There are seven bones in the cervical spine and each bone is called a vertebrae. There are joints between each of the vertebrae called the facet joints. Facet joints, as with all other joints in the human body, allow a defined amount of movement as we go about our daily activities; not too much movement and not too little.
Moving further into our anatomy discussion, we all know there are muscles of the neck. The muscles in the front of the neck are called flexors. Muscles in the back of the neck are called extensors. And there are muscles on the side of the neck that allow us to move our heads from side to side and to turn right and left.
There are also nerves associated with the cervical spine. The base of the brain narrows down into the spinal cord which is enclosed and protected by the spinal canal of the cervical vertebral bones. On the sides of the cervical spine are openings called inter-vertebral foramen. Peripheral nerves travel from the spinal cord, exit through the inter vertebral foramen and go to various parts of the body. Some of the peripheral nerves of the cervical spine travel to the muscles at the base of the skull. Others go to muscles in the front, back and sides of the neck. In still other peripheral nerves travel down into our upper extremities.
Optimally the vertebrae of the cervical spine are aligned and move properly. However, if there is a traumatic injury or repetitive overuse stress vertebrae can become misaligned and have improper movement. This is the case the facet joints of the cervical spine and the peripheral nerves of the neck can become irritated. This is the single most frequent cause of neck pain. This mechanical abnormality is also the most prominent reason people experience tension and migraine headaches.
A recent scientific study in the research journal Chiropractic and Manual Therapies, December 2019 speaks specifically about seniors with neck pain. It is estimated that one in five people aged 70 and older suffer from neck pain a recent survey of 288 Australian chiropractors revealed that seniors accounted for about a third of their patients, with neck pain affecting roughly half, often with co-morbid headaches. Among responders, the most common treatment approach for older adults with cervical pain included a combination of manual therapies (including manipulation and mobilization), neck specific exercises, and self-management techniques.
As the scientific article notes chiropractors utilize a technique of the treatment called manipulation. Chiropractors also use the term “chiropractic adjustment” interchangeably with manipulation. A chiropractic adjustment involves gently, safely and expertly realigning and providing proper movement of the cervical vertebrae so as to relieve irritation to the facet joints in the spinal nerves. This method of treatment is considered to be the “gold standard” for pain relief for the majority of those suffering with neck pain.
As mentioned earlier I have treated a number of older adults, who were experiencing neck pain, and thought there was nothing that could be done to give relief of their neck condition. However, once chiropractic care commenced, and these patients began to see improvement of their discomfort their skepticism resolved along with their previous discomfort.
Certainly, anyone experiencing neck pain would be advised to seek the services of a doctor of chiropractic for relief of their problem. Senior citizens would also definitely be in this category and should not hesitate to seek this avenue for possible assistance.