Subluxations (misalignments of the spinal column) are one of the most common causes of neck and low back pain. Most people will experience neck pain at some point in their lives. Neck pain can be acute, meaning it lasts a few hours to a few weeks, or it can be chronic. Neck pain that lasts several weeks or longer is considered chronic neck pain.
When vertebrae are misaligned, they put pressure directly on spinal nerves, causing pain. Muscle spasms may set in, which can increase the pressure further. This extra pressure can cause even more inflammation and irritation, which leads to an even more painful cycle.
Often times stretching and massage may only temporarily relieve the pain, because the cause (subluxation) has not been addressed. A chiropractic adjustment focuses on correcting the cause.
Poor posture at work, such as leaning into your computer, and during hobbies, such as hunching over your workbench, can be common causes of neck pain.
It is said that the majority of headaches originate from the neck. Usually an increased amount of stress and tension held in the shoulders causes contractions of all of the surrounding neck muscles. When these muscles contract, vertebrae can become misaligned causing pressure on spinal nerves, and ultimately pain. With a typical cervicogenic (neck origin) headache, a person usually feels pain starting at the base of the skull which radiates into the temples, eyeballs, and forehead.
Primary headaches include migraine, tension, and cluster headaches, as well as a variety of other less common types of headache. There may be several other causes of headaches, so a proper examination is needed to determine the actual cause.
Tension headaches are the most common type of primary headache; as many as 90% of adults have had or will have tension headaches. Tension headaches are more common among women than men. This type of headache responds very well to chiropractic treatments.
Tension headaches occur because of physical or emotional stress placed on the body. Physical stress that may cause tension headaches include difficult and prolonged manual labor, or sitting at a desk or computer for long periods of time. Emotional stress may also cause tension headaches by causing the muscles surrounding the skull to contract.
The symptoms of tension headache are:
- A pain that begins in the back of the head and upper neck as a band-like tightness or pressure.
- Described as a band of pressure encircling the head with the most intense pain over the eyebrows.
- The pain is usually mild (not disabling) and bilateral (affecting both sides of the head).
- Not associated with an aura (see below) and are not associated with nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound.
- Usually occur sporadically (infrequently and without a pattern) but can occur frequently and even daily in some people.
Migraine headaches are the second most common type of primary headache. An estimated 28 million people in the United States (about 12% of the population) will experience migraine headaches. Migraine headaches affect children as well as adults. An estimated 6% of men and up to 18% of women will experience a migraine headache.
Migraines are chronic headaches that can cause significant pain for hours or even days. Symptoms can be so severe that all you can think about is finding a dark, quiet place to lie down. Some migraines are preceded or accompanied by sensory warning symptoms or signs (auras), such as flashes of light, blind spots or tingling in your arm or leg. A migraine is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
Cluster headaches are a rare type of primary headache, affecting 0.1% of the population. An estimated 85% of cluster headache sufferers are men. The average age of cluster headache sufferers is 28-30 years of age, although headaches may begin in childhood.
Cluster headaches are headaches that come in groups (clusters) lasting weeks or months, separated by pain-free periods of months or years.
- During the period in which the cluster headaches occur, pain typically occurs once or twice daily, but some patients may experience pain more than twice daily.
- Each episode of pain lasts from 30 minutes to an hour and a half.
Attacks tend to occur at about the same time every day and often awaken the patient at night from a sound sleep.
- The pain typically is excruciating and located around or behind one eye.
- Some patients describe the pain as feeling like a hot poker in the eye. The affected eye may become red, inflamed, and watery.
- The nose on the affected side may become congested and runny.
Unlike patients with migraine headaches, patients with cluster headaches tend to be restless. They often pace the floor, bang their heads against a wall, and can be driven to desperate measures. Cluster headaches are much more common in males than females.
Primary headaches affect quality of life. Some people have occasional headaches that resolve quickly, while others are debilitated. Tension, migraine, and cluster headaches are generally not life-threatening.