Neck pain is one of the most common complaints in clinical orthopedics…and it’s a real “pain in the neck” for both patients and physicians. You already know why neck pain is a pain in the neck for you… here’s why it’s tough for us:
When making a diagnosis, physicians are trained to be as specific as possible. We like to be anatomically precise…to hone in on the exact muscle, ligament, tendon or other structure that is causing the pain. When it comes to the neck though, diagnostic accuracy is a very slippery slope.
We have access to amazing technologies like X-Ray, ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI that allow us to get exquisitely detailed images of the structures within the spine. The images from these technologies give physicians remarkable detail about what lurks below the skin, and often lead to very specific diagnoses based on what is seen in the pictures. MRI reports commonly list the problems that have been discovered at each vertebral level, often using official sounding terms like: cervical disc degeneration, disc bulging, disc herniation, facet arthritis, or foraminal stenosis. Patients with neck pain who get reports like this are often relieved to learn that there is an explanation for their pain but are also often upset and understandably worried about receiving such a serious sounding diagnosis.
Here’s the problem with these detailed diagnoses…all too often, they’re just plain wrong. Even top spine specialists will admit that they cannot be certain about the exact causes of most neck pain, nor do they understand why two people with very similar MRI findings often have very different symptoms.
In fact, dozens of studies have used MRI to look at the spines of thousands of asymptomatic people (that means people with no pain) and have discovered evidence of cervical disc degeneration in high proportions of asymptomatic individuals, increasing with age. The numbers are staggering: 37% of 20 year olds and 96% of 80 year olds have evidence of disc degeneration on MRI…even when there is no pain!
The results of these studies highlight one of the biggest problems in orthopedic medicine today. The problem is that physicians regularly assume that a patient’s pain is coming from the problem that was discovered on the MRI…and more often than not, they’re wrong. Many people notice that they have good days and bad days or pain that comes and goes with certain activities or stress. When a person has a diagnosis of a disc problem or arthritis, pain that comes and goes like that should always prompt some very important questions that almost never get asked. Is the disc problem coming and going? Does arthritis have good days and bad days? If we looked at the MRI on a “good day”…would it be normal?
Even in the setting of fairly serious cervical disc disease, arthritis, or degeneration…a person with healthy posture, low levels of inflammation, and muscles that are strong, supple, and flexible will often feel no pain.
Before resorting to powerful pharmaceuticals, injections or surgery…it pays to consider some conservative options first: The following are several safe, effective, treatments to consider:
- Stretching: A simple daily series of basic range of motion stretches can do wonders for flexibility. Here are five basic positions that you can do in a total of a less than five minutes per day. Hold each position for 7-10 deep breaths and add a little extra stretch by applying some gentle overpressure with your hands during the last few breaths
- Flexion: Chin to chest
- Flexion with rotation: Chin toward your pants pocket on each side.
- Side Bending: Ear to shoulder on each side
- Extension: Chin toward ceiling
- Rotation: Chin toward shoulder on each side
- Strengthening: The single most important strengthening exercise for the cervical spine is the “chin tuck” exercise. This movement encourages postural alignment by strengthening the muscles that get weak as a result of poor posture and prolonged sitting.
- Start by standing with your back to the wall, with your feet about 3 inches away from the wall.
- Keep spine flat against the wall.
- Pull your head directly backward until the back of the head is pressed against the wall.
- Keep the back of the head against the wall for 3-5 seconds.
- Makes sure that your eyes are looking straight ahead, not up or down
- Once you are comfortable with the basic movement, it can be done sitting or standing, with or without a wall behind you.
- This exercise should be repeated for 12-15 repetitions and should be repeated multiple times per day. Many people do a quick set of chin tucks every hour, especially if they are sitting at a desk all day.
- You can also use the headrest of your car to press against while you’re sitting in traffic or stopped at a red light.
Nutritional and Herbal Supplements:
There are several nutritional and herbal products that can be useful in helping to reduce inflammation, improve connective tissue integrity, and decrease muscle tension. There are many products that combine active ingredients into safe and effective formulations: Here are a few favorites:
- Zyflamend by New Chapter: This is a famous anti-inflammatory herbal combination. Typical dose is two capsules 2-3 times per day.
- Arthrosoothe by Designs for Health: Combination of ingredients that supports connective tissue health and reduces inflammation. Typical dose is 2 capsules two times per day.
- BCQ by Vital Nutrients: Top quality ingredients make this a useful formula for pain, inflammation, and chronic muscle tension. Typical dose is 2 capsules 3 times per day.
- Kindness, caring, compassion
- Open-minded about alternative medicine
- Friendly (dare we even say…cool?)
Well, you’ve come to the right place. HealthierTalk is proud to introduce you to Dr. Joshua Levitt… a man who actually checks all the boxes, and more.
Dr. Joshua Levitt is a naturopathic physician who is widely known for his expertise in treating both common and complex medical problems. In practice, Dr. Levitt draws on his broad knowledge of the science of both conventional and natural medicine and the art of combing the two into a “best of both worlds” treatment strategy. He has over 15 years of direct clinical experience using a unique blend of nutritional therapy, herbal medicine, and physical medicine to treat a wide range of diseases and conditions. His patients and his readers praise him for the ability to educate, motivate, and inspire them with stories and advice that helps them help themselves. In addition to his work as an author, Dr. Levitt owns and runs a private practice in Connecticut, where he is also a clinical preceptor for the Yale School of Medicine.
Dr. Levitt’s unique perspective was informed by an education that includes a degree in physiology from UCLA, a doctorate in naturopathic medicine from the prestigious Bastyr University, formal residency training in integrative medicine in Seattle, and experience with thousands of patients.
Dr. Levitt is also the author and creator of several popular books, and many articles and videos, which all demonstrate his passion and commitment to bringing information and products to you that can help you achieve your health and wellness goals. You can see more from Dr. Levitt at UpWellness.com.
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