Anatomy of the Spine
To understand the causes and treatments of neck pain, you must first understand the anatomy of the spine. The spine is a column of bony vertebrae with a hollow tube, or spinal canal, in the center. The spinal canal houses and protects the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves and tissue, which connects almost every part of the body to the brain, where it forms the central nervous system. The individual vertebrae are separated by vertebral discs, which act as shock-absorbers. The discs are round and somewhat soft, to allow for movement. They have a tough exterior, called the annulus, with a soft, jelly-like inside. When a back muscle or disc is pulled out of place and irritating one of these nerves, it can send pain, numbness or weakness anywhere on the body.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
There can be many different causes of neck pain. The most common reason for pain or discomfort in the neck and shoulder area is muscle tension, which can be relieved by regular stretching exercises, applying heat to the area or getting a massage. Sitting on the computer for long periods, working at a desk, poor posture or sleeping without a good pillow can cause muscle tension in this area.
There are also many conditions of the spine which can cause pain. Read below to learn about some of the most common.
What is a spinal disc?
The anatomy of the spine consist of the bony vertebrae (with the hollow spinal canal inside), the spinal cord and nerves (housed and protected by the spinal canal) and the shock-absorbing spinal discs. The discs lie between each vertebrae to provide a cushioning and flexible barrier, to prevent two vertebrae from rubbing against each other. These spinal discs consist of a soft, jelly-like interior with a tough but flexible exterior, called the annulus.
A bulging disc is a spinal disc that is being pushed out of its place between two vertebrae. It is literally bulging out of the side of the spine.
A herniated disc is a spinal disc which ruptures, allowing the soft, jelly-like center to push out through a crack in the exterior of the disc.
Both of these conditions cause pain when the disc irritates nearby nerves. Because the spinal cord and nerves connect the brain to the rest of the body, irritating these nerves that run along the spine can cause pain, tingling, numbness or weakness anywhere else on the body.
What causes bulging or herniated discs?
Both bulging and herniated discs are most commonly caused by aging. Over time, the spinal discs lose some of their water content, making them more brittle, less flexible, flatter and more prone to damage. When this happens, it does not take much to rupture a disc or pull it out of place. A small trauma, tight muscles around the spine or improper lifting stance can be enough.
Other common causes of bulging and herniated discs include:
- Excessive body weight
- Genetics (a predisposition to weakened or misshapen discs can be inherited)
- Repetitive movements, such as lifting, bending, standing, and driving
What are the symptoms of bulging or herniated discs?
The most common symptoms of bulging or herniated discs are weakness, numbness, tingling or shooting/stabbing pain in one or both arms and/or legs. Generally, if the problematic disc is in the lower back, the pain or numbness will be in the legs, buttocks or feet.
A cervicogenic headache is a type of headache that is caused by referred pain, or pain that originates elsewhere on the body but is perceived in the head. When the pain originates in the cervical spine, it is known as a cervicogenic headache.
What causes a cervicogenic headache?
Cervicogenic headaches can be caused by problems with the eyes, ears or sinuses, temporomandibular joint disorder, head trauma (including concussions), spinal diseases or muscle tension in the neck and head.
What are the symptoms of a cervicogenic headache?
Cervicogenic headaches tend to feel similar to migraines, except that the pain is usually on one side of the head only. Other symptoms include:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Neck pain which is worsened by movement
- Reduced range of motion in the neck
- Sensitivity to light
- Nausea and vomiting
“At the Magaziner Center, we see many patients with post-concussion syndrome. Having performed well over 50,000 procedures in my career, I know it takes an extreme amount of skill and dexterity to treat damage from concussion. However, successful treatment leads to regaining the patient’s life, allowing them to function again without pain, headache, blurred vision, and all of the other lingering symptoms of concussion. While there has never been a controlled clinical trial on prolotherapy for treatment of post-concussion syndrome, the results speak for themselves.”
–Dr. Scott Greenberg, MD
What is post-concussion syndrome?
Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a complex disorder which follows a concussion, and more specifically, the injury that caused a concussion. It is characterized by a combination of symptoms that begin within seven to ten days of a concussion and last from a few weeks to a year or more. While many patients recover from a concussion with no additional treatment, just as many will not. We do not know what causes some patients, but not others, to develop post-concussion syndrome.Because most patients who suffer from post-concussion syndrome will have normal bloodwork, normal MRI results and normal vital signs, it has been a somewhat controversial condition, with many conventional doctors doubting its existence. Because we cannot “see” an apparent cause of their symptoms by these traditional tests, a conventional treatment for post-concussion syndrome does not exist. Those that suffer from this disorder are asked to rest and possibly undergo physical and occupational therapy until symptoms resolve. The problem arises when symptoms simply do not resolve.Patients are forced to put their lives on hold while they wait for recovery. This is a common condition among athletes who have to put their careers on hold while they wait for help.
What are the symptoms of post-concussion syndrome?
While they often vary, symptoms of post-concussion syndrome include:
- Balance and coordination issues
- Blurred vision
- Loss of concentration and memory
- Excessive sensitivity to noise and light
- Altered sensation to the face
Treating post-concussion syndrome
There is a better way to address post-concussion syndrome than just waiting it out and dealing with pain. In fact, we at the Magaziner Center for Wellness have been using innovative regenerative joint procedures to get many professional and collegiate athletes back in their respective games. We have had great success with prolotherapy, a holistic procedure that involves a series of injections into damaged ligaments, tendons, and joints that produce a healing response within the damaged tissue, ultimately leading to repair of the damage. The mechanism for this non-surgical repair is mediated through immune system modulators which cause the concentration of cells known as macrophages and monocytes along with chemicals known as chemokines, to remove microscopic debris and fix damaged tissues.
We also use platelet rich plasma (PRP) to treat post-concussion syndrome. In PRP therapy, we extract a small amount of a patient’s blood from which we develop a concentration of platelets and growth factors naturally found in the body that we then inject into the damaged area to promote healing. In addition to stimulating the body to heal itself, the platelet “graft” also forms a biologic scaffold that provides optimal curative conditions in the injured area. Many of our professional and highly competitive athletes use PRP to return to their sport when an injury does not heal, or time does not allow for an injury to sideline that athlete.
We have also had great results using stem cell therapy to treat PCS. Stem cells are drawn from the patient’s own body and then injected into the treatment areas.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is often recommended to treat patients with concussions and post-concussion syndrome. This therapy is used to greatly increase oxygen uptake to the brain, nervous system, skeletal muscle, and all body tissues.
We also recommend a targeted supplement program (Link to Nutritional Therapies page) to reduce oxidative stress and improve mitochondrial function, two areas that are often adversely affected with a brain injury or post-concussion syndrome.
What is cervicocranial syndrome?
Cervicocranial syndrome is a condition in which the cervical vertabrae are misaligned, causing irritation to the nerves. This can lead to pain in the neck, face, sinus cavity or ears.
What causes cervicocranial syndrome?
Cervicocranial syndrome can have many different causes, including:
- Damage to the upper cervical facet joints
- Repetitive stress to the area
- Poor posture
- Trauma to the area
What are the symptoms of cervicocranial syndrome?
- Neck pain
- Pain or tingling radiating down the arm
- Clogged ears
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to light and/or sound
- Sensations of heat in the face, neck or head
Degenerative disc disease refers to the pain, weakness, numbness and other symptoms associated with the degeneration of spinal discs. All of us experience some degree of disc degeneration as we age, but not all of have the symptoms. For most of us, gradual degeneration poses no problem and is just an accepted part of the aging process. For others, however, this can result in pain, sometimes sever and debilitating.
What causes degenerative disc disease?
As we age, our spinal discs begin to deteriorate. They begin to accumulate tiny cracks in the annulus (outside layer) and become drier, causing them to become less flexible, thinner and less able to absorb shock. As the discs become thinner, the space between the vertebrae shrink, causing bone spurs on the spine. These bony growths can put pressure on the nerves or the spinal cord and cause pain.
This is more likely to occur in the obese and those who do repetitive, heavy, manual labor. An injury may also begin or worsen the degeneration process.
What are the symptoms of degenerative disc disease?
- Pain that spikes during physical activity
- Periods of severe pain that can last from days to months
- Pain when bending, lifting and twisting
- Walking or running may provide relief
Traditional Western medicine will generally treat neck pain with medication — typically nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)– physical therapy and possibly surgery. NSAIDs have powerful side effects and can cause secondary issues, such as stomach problems, including bleeding and ulcer, abdominal pain, fluid retention, kidney problems, heart problems, rashes and more. In fact, NSAIDs have recently been found to be more dangerous than previously thought. The FDA is now strengthening their warning that even the over-the-counter strengths can cause heart attacks or strokes. This course of treatment puts patients on a fast track to ever increasing doses of an ever increasing potency anti-inflammatories and pain-killers.
Spinal surgery is extremely risky, has a long recovery time and there is no guarantee that it will fix the problem. We see many patients who have had surgery and still experience severe pain regularly.
For the most part, medication is prescribed simply to suppress the symptoms, not to cure the injury or condition. Oftentimes, it can actually prevent the body from healing properly, by suppressing its natural responses, such as inflammation, which triggers the healing process. The symptoms associated with an injury or condition are the body’s way of letting us know that something is wrong. By suppressing these signals, but not working to fix the problem, we can actually do more harm than good. Medication also has plenty of risks, including side effects, addiction and the need for increasing doses, as it inevitably loses effectiveness as your body grown accustomed to it and builds a ‘tolerance’.
When neck pain (or any joint pain) is treated with a pain killer or anti-inflammatory drug, the patient may feel some relief, because the symptoms are being suppressed. This is not a solution, however, because it is not fixing the cause of the pain. Inflammation is not the cause of the pain, it is the body’s natural response to injury and the trigger for it to begin the healing process. By suppressing the inflammation, these drugs are preventing the body from to healing itself. Painkillers are simply numbing the pain that results from the injury. If the injury is not treated, it may never properly heal and can even get worse as time goes on. Many of our patients have been on ascending does of pain medication for years, with no end in sight.
At the Magaziner Center for Wellness, we treat neck and head pain holistically–by learning where the problem originated and working to heal it.
Using prolotherapy, Prolozone®, platelet rich plasma (PRP) and stem cell therapy, we accelerate and enhance the body’s natural healing process. We see many patients who have already been through the gamut of traditional medicine and have not found relief. Many people who have had no success with treatments such as surgery, nerve block, epidurals and steroid injections, trigger point injections, chiropractic therapy, acupuncture and more, find relief for the first time after receiving treatment at the Magaziner Center. With no side effects, downtime or surgery, we have gotten patients off of medication, helped them to avoid surgery and gotten them back to their lives.
*The treatment that we will recommend depends on the type and severity of the injury or condition. Call 856-424-8222 or email to schedule a consultation and learn about the options that are right for you.