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My Pain Is In My Neck, Why Are You Adjusting My Low Back?

neck-pain

“Dr. Megan, my pain is in my neck. Why are you adjusting my low back?” We get questions like this often in our office, and the concerns are extremely valid.  There are several things that go into deciding what bone(s) needs to be adjusted and surprisingly, the location of the adjustment is not dependent on the location or even the presence of pain.

For starters, the need for an adjustment is not reliant on whether or not you have pain.  Your nerves have several different functions — motor function (movement), automatic function (organ function), and sensory function (including the feeling of pain).  Sensory function is just small part of your nervous system, so there could be tension on your spinal cord  and nerves without the feeling of pain.  This is why you sometimes need an adjustment even though you do not have symptoms.

It is also important to note that the spinal cord attaches at the very top and the very bottom of the spine.  When one or more of those spinal regions are misaligned, it increases the amount of tension throughout the entire spinal cord and can create discomfort in other spinal regions.  For example, when a spinal bone in your neck has shifted from its normal position, it changes the tone of the spinal cord.  Since the spinal cord is also attached at the bottom of your spine, you may feel symptoms in your lower back from the increase in tension caused by the misalignment in your neck.  You can see in this instance how the area of pain isn’t always the area that needs to be adjusted.

When dealing with spinal structure, it’s important to remember that all of your bones, muscles, ligaments, organs, etc. work together to keep you alive in a somewhat “normal state”.  With that being said, if there is a structural shift within the spine, the body’s natural response may be to compensate for that misalignment.  This could mean a distortion in posture or a shift in spinal structure in another region of the spine.  If this is the case, you may experience pain as a result of this compensation, but again, the site of pain may not be the primary area that needs to be adjusted.

With so many things to consider, how do we know where to adjust?  This is one of the many reasons we chose our unique focus (NeuroStructural Correction).  Our analysis of spinal structure is very specific,  locating the areas where the primary misalignment(s) are (meaning it doesn’t look for compensations).  Once the adjustment is made, the tone or tension of the spinal cord and nerves are able to return to a more acceptable state.  When this happens, there can be a decrease in the amount of discomfort caused by that structural shift, whether that discomfort was in the same area as the adjustment or in a completely different region of the body.

In the example of the lower back pain caused by a misalignment in the upper spine, once the shift is adjusted back toward normal, and the added tension on the spinal cord is released, the symptoms in the lower back can decrease.  In a similar fashion, if a spinal bone is misaligned and the body responds via compensation, once that shifted bone is adjusted, the compensation can often times self-correct.

While it is important to note the presence of pain, pain does not dictate the adjustment.  Because your body can respond to structural shifts in many different ways, we would rather use a very specific, objective analysis to determine what needs to be adjusted, rather than relying solely on pain or other symptoms.  Correcting the primary shift(s) of you spine will help you achieve the greatest results in the shortest amount of time!

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Do You Have One of These 5 Warning Signs?

If you or someone you know has one or more of the following signs, it is likely an indication of a structural abnormality in the body’s inner framework, the spine.

1.) Chronic Headaches

Headaches are a huge indicator that someone has a problem in their upper spine. There are many different types of headaches and a few stand out in relation to spinal structure.

  • Migraine headaches
  • Occipital headaches (start in the back of the skull)
  • Tension Headaches – with pain centers around the side of the head and jaw

Just because headaches are common does NOT mean they are normal. Many people suffering for months or years have a structural problem in their upper spine. Abnormalities in this area can disrupt proper blood flow to the head and face and disrupt proper nervous system function throughout the whole body.

2.) Popping and Cracking of the Spinal Bones

This typically indicates that one or more segments of a person’s spine have become unstable. There is an increased risk for serious injury and spinal decay can occur in these areas at an accelerated pace.

3.) Anterior Head Syndrome (AHS)

AHS occurs when the center of the ear has shifted in front of the center of the shoulder. This causes a loss of the healthy C-curve in the upper spine and can also lead to spinal decay.

AHS is often associated with the dreaded Dowager’s (Granny) Hump appearance common in women.

Anterior Head Syndrome

Other secondary conditions associated with AHS include:

  • Spinal Decay
  • Migraine headaches
  • TMJ Disorder
  • Carpal Tunnel
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Neck pain
  • and more…

4.) Numbness and Tingling

Numbness or tingling down the arms or the legs is also a big warning sign. There may be a spinal problem that has progressed to the point where the nerves branching from the spinal cord are being affected. Nerves are very important and fragile. It only takes a small amount of pressure on them to create secondary issues in the body.

5.) Uneven Head or Shoulders

If you look in the mirror and see your head tilted slightly to one side or the other, and one of your shoulders more elevated than the other, this is a very strong indicator that there is likely a problem with the Upper Spine.

When you look in the mirror with your head relaxed, you should be able to draw a straight horizontal line through the following points:

  • Bottom of the ears
  • Corners of the eyes
  • Corners of the mouth
  • Tops of the shoulders

The Upper Spine is where the skull attaches to the neck and is a critically important area of the spine. A problem here can affect the entire body.

head tilt

If you, a friend, or family member has one or more of the above warning signs do not wait for them to get better on their own! These are signs that indicate a structural abnormality. Problems with structure lead to problems with function in your body. The sooner these problems are detected and then corrected, the better the outcome will be.

 

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What’s that Hump Behind My Neck? Can I Get Rid of it?

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Have you noticed a squishy bump on the back of the neck of yourself or a loved one and wondered what it was?  One of the most common postural deformities for women (and sometimes men, too) is seen on the image to the left; the small little hump at the point where the neck meets the upper back. Most women feel like this hump makes them appear heavier and older, and look for ways to conceal it.  It is a common feature in women as they age, so it naturally creates a sense of insecurity about one’s age when it appears.

So, what where did this hump come from? Is it from aging? Is it a hormone problem? Can you get rid of it?

Dowager’s Hump

The rounding of the upper part of the spine is commonly referred to as a Dowager’s Hump.  In medical terms it is called hyperkyphosis. Both terms describe a pronounced rounding of the spine near the head and neck.  Not all rounding is bad.  The upper back is supposed to have a slight rounded appearance.  In the more pronounced cases, there is extra curving is this area of the spine. This extra rounding is often accompanied by a small pad of fat on top of the hump.

A Dowager’s Hump can be caused by postural distortion and muscular imbalances affecting the neck, chest, and upper back.aging-posture-300x168

How Does This Happen?

If the rounding is NOT related to spinal fractures, osteoporosis, or hormonal issues like Cushing’s Syndrome then you are dealing with a problem that is primarily posture related.

Common posture-related causes include:

  1. Long hours in front of a computer and/or a mobile device.
  2. Frequently carrying children around.
  3. Muscular imbalances in the upper body.
  4. Structural Shifts of the spine, specifically Anterior Head Syndrome. 

Can it be Fixed?

Any type of humping related to a deformity in the spine like a fracture, severe scoliosis, or congenital malformation is not changeable.  You cannot change the shape of anatomy that has been broken or misshapen.

However, if the humping is related to posture, then there are options for improvement.

– Postural corrective exercises can be performed to address weak musculature.

– Massage therapy can be performed to address a component of muscular imbalances related to upper cross syndrome.

– Fat pad removal which is performed by plastic surgeons to remove the fatty pad on the back of a hump.

The above steps can help reduce the superficial effects of a Dowager’s Hump.

However, it is important to understand that there is a Structural issue stemming from this phenomenon. The reason most people who have this humping are older is because a shifting of the spine can advance the age of your spine through degeneration.

One of the most important conditions to address in people with a Dowager’s Hump is Anterior Head Syndrome (AHS).  AHS is when the head shifts forward in front of the chest.  This creates slumped or rounded shoulders, collapsed chest posture, which can result in a variety of secondary problems like neck and arm pain, headaches, numbness and tingling.

Anterior Head Syndrome

Anterior Head Syndrome is a common cause of Dowager’s Hump

Over time, if this issue isn’t addressed, the joints of the neck stop moving smoothly and lock the head in that forward position. When the forward shifting of the head is corrected, the rest of the spine will often shift back into a normal position again and reduce the rounding automatically.

Reducing AHS can decrease the appearance of Dowager’s.  More importantly, it can help decrease the likelihood you or a loved one suffers from secondary conditions as a result of AHS. If you’re serious about addressing this issue, then don’t let your fix be purely cosmetic in nature.

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“I’m Just Getting Old”

Achy joints, a twinge in the knee, or even a sharp pain from the shoulder to the elbow?  That’s all part of normal aging, right?

These are complaints that we commonly hear.  You may be surprised to learn that most often this is heard from people in their 40’s and 50’s.  This type of pain is a serious problem for these people because it can affect their livelihood and interaction with family and friends.

All too often, people assume joint pain is a normal part of aging; that we just have to learn to live with it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Let’s delve deeper for a minute.  When most people talk about pain associated with “getting old,” they’re usually referring to a variety of problems that can be thrown under the umbrella of Arthritis.  This type of arthritis is known as osteoarthritis, and doesn’t refer to inflammatory or Rheumatoid arthritis.  Osteoarthritis can be associated with things like: degenerative joint disease, bone spurs, degenerative disc disease, and spinal canal stenosis, to name a few.

Below is a side view x-ray of the neck.

Notice at the arrows, there is decreased space between the bones, and the shape of the bones themselves have changed.

Notice at the arrows, there is decreased space between the bones, and the shape of the bones themselves has changed.

This person is one of those we just talked about, and has had neck pain for the past month.  The red arrows are pointing to areas that have degenerative disc disease and are the result of many years of breakdown.  When seeing this damaged disc on their x-ray, they said, “That’s just because I’m getting old.”

Now, as someone approaches the middle of their life, there’s no question that there will be wear and tear of their spine.  That’s not the issue.  Rather, the extensive amount of damage to their lower neck, is.

Here’s an interesting question, how old are the healthy discs at the top of the neck?

It’s a trick question, because all of the discs are the same age.  So, if this problem was only due to aging, wouldn’t you expect every disc to have similar degeneration?


In the picture above, there are problems with the structure of the person’s spine.  When a structural problem occurs in the neck, a few things can happen.

  • The structure of the spine becomes distorted and speeds the wear and tear of the joints.  What happens to your car when the frame of it has shifted?  Would you expect the steering wheel to pull to one side or one of the tires to wear faster than the others?  This same concept happens to the joints in the spine!
  • The shift in the structure of the spine will hinder signals traveling to and from the brain.  This decrease in information from the brain to the rest of the body can cause dysfunction in the nervous system and will ultimately lead to secondary problems.

So, this person has had this problem in their spine for many years, but did not show any signs of neck pain until last month.  How is that possible?

Structural issues in the spine are often left undiagnosed for several years.  Research shows that many of us have herniated discs in the spine, but 60% will feel no pain or symptoms.  So, a problem that should be of great concern, may be decreasing the function of your body without you knowing it.

These problems are almost always preventable.  There are things you can do to reduce the amount of wear and tear on the spine and maintain full function of the body’s control and coordinating system, the nervous system:

  • Lose weight: if you are overweight, the first step is to shed the excess pounds
  • Exercise: walking, biking, weight lifting, jogging, or any activity that improves strength, endurance, and range of motion
  • If you smoke, QUIT: research has shown that smoking has an effect on bone health

You likely have your blood pressure, cholesterol, eyes, and of course your teeth checked to maintain optimal health.    Structural abnormalities which lead to breakdown of the joints in your spine can only be detected and corrected by a doctor who focuses on Neuro-Structural Correction.  Routine checks of your spine for structural abnormalities are critical to reducing your risk of arthritis and a variety of secondary problems.

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