The cervical discs in your neck are much like the insides of a pomegranate. As long as they stay inside there is no problem. However as soon as you open it up its contents can corrupt just about everything they touch. Inside each disc is something called the nucleus pulposus. It is a gel like substance that can leak out of a disc after injury. This can happen from a chronically desiccated(dried) or a fresh bulge type injury from lifting heavy objects. The point is the once extruded the substance can produce immense amounts of pain.
Cervical Discs are commonplace, in fact It is estimated that over 325,000 spinal fusions (137,000 cervical and 162,000 lumbar) are performed yearly in the United states. (1)
Severe Cervical Discs disease requires surgery, however in a moment we will discuss a little-known procedure called upper cervical care that is helping people heal naturally avoiding costly and oftentimes complications that can happen with surgery.
Your cervical spine is composed of seven small vertebrae that — along with various muscles and ligaments — form your neck. The most complicated biomechanical and neurological area is located at the CCJ (craniocervical junction). However, this area, skull, c-1 and c2 do NOT have discs. These vertebrae protect your brainstem and the nerves that branch out from the cord, and provide support for your head.
From C-3 to c-7 each vertebra has cervical discs, which are made of a tough flexible outer ring and a soft, gelatinous center. These discs allow for support and cushion your neck vertebrae from the stresses of daily living.
However, wear and tear as you age, and damage from car accidents or sports injuries can cause the cervical discs to break down, bulge and rupture (herniate). Damage to the cervical discs can not only cause pain but also can be just one of many health issues that are coming from a similar source - NERVE IRRITATION.
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More than 16 million Americans visit doctors or hospital for neck pain treatment in 2014. (2) And while cervical discs disorders accounted for only 15 percent of those visits, the condition was responsible for 33 percent of neck-pain related hospitalizations.
Two of the most common reasons people suffer with neck pain are pinched nerves in the neck and cervical discs bulges. When a disc herniates, the bulge can impact the spinal nerve or the spinal cord, causing pain and weakness in that part of the body it supplies.
In the case of a neck disc herniation, the pain starts in the neck and travels down the arm in the area served by the damaged nerve. Symptoms may include:
· electrical or burning pain
· Pain that either increases or decreases depending on the direction the head and neck is positioned
· loss of strength or coordination in the affected arm
· Loss of sensation
· Paresthesia -Numbness or tingling in the shoulder, arm or hand
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing and stiffing of the spine, caused by degenerative changes that happen as we age or are adaptive to injury.
As you grow older, the cervical discs in your spine lose height and begin to bulge. However, as we will talk about in a minute there are things you can do to halt this process or keep it from happening in the first place by ensuring your spine is functioning properly. The discs also lose water content, begin to dry out and become stiffer. Over time, the disc can collapse, and the bony vertebrae move closer together.
In response, your body forms more bone — bone spurs — around the disc, called DJD to strengthen it. However, these spurs cause the spine to stiffen and the spinal canal to narrow, putting pressure on nerves.
May who develop spinal stenosis do not have pain, however for those that do they may experience the following:
· Neck pain
· Numbness or weakness in the arms, shoulder, hand and legs
· Trouble with fine motor skills, such as buttoning a shirt or zipping a coat
· Bladder or bowel problems, in severe cases (indicates the necessity for surgery)
Most cervical disc disorders can be diagnosed with a physical exam, X-rays and MRI.
While X-rays can show any narrowing of the spinal canal, an MRI is necessary to show bulging or herniated discs and detect damage to the spinal cord or nerve roots.
Once diagnosed, the first line of treatment for cervical disc disorders typically involves physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen. In some cases, steroid injections may be recommended to help relieve pain and swelling around the nerve.
However, the main thrust of this article is to explain how an upper cervical spine injury can be at the root of your suffering. Let us explain. Your neck houses the brainstem. The brainstem controls most of the function of your body that you do not think about, including muscle tone regulation. Imbalances in muscle tone regulation occur because the center that tells the muscles to be tight or loose is misfiring. How can this occur?
Injuries to the neck from, whiplash, sports injuries, slip and falls and other trauma can dislodge the top bone in the neck called the atlas. This can occur because of the precarious nature of the neck skull junction. The skull weighs 10-12 lbs. and the atlas (c-1) weighs 2 ounces. This most important area is structurally the weakest in the spine. As a result, injury can displace the atlas out of its normal position, tearing soft tissue, ligaments and muscles. The injury may heal up however the structural damage has far reaching effects not only on the bodies postural muscle tone but many other body systems.
The upper neck injury causes body imbalance. (fig 1.) Neck injury is the UNDERLYING cause of disc injury that predisposes it to happen. When muscles become tighter on one side of the neck than the other, one shoulder higher than the other, one pelvis higher than the other, this causes unilateral spinal weakness. This type of individual can then either lift something “too heavy” or the repetitive injury due to the imbalance can over time produce the disc herniation. Once the herniation exists the muscles in that area further spasm as a protective mechanism. If you suffer from this condition what can an upper cervical chiropractor do that can help?
What Does An Upper Cervical Chiropractor Do?
An Upper Cervical Chiropractors sole focus is to release spinal cord tension at the CCJ (craniocervical, skull, c-1 , and c-2) to allow the central nervous system to function optimally. As discussed, when the upper neck is misaligned it causes the muscles through the spine to become imbalanced. By correcting the underlying cause of the spinal imbalance, the body can “straighten” itself out. Upper Cervical Doctors take precise x-rays of the upper cervical spine to determine exactly how your joint anatomy is built (everyone is different) and to determine what direction your atlas has misaligned. Once these factors are determined a precise spinal correction is made. There is no popping twisting or pulling of the neck. The goal of the procedure is to “hold” the correction in its normal position so the body can heal can heal itself. Little importance has been placed on the body’s own recuperative power. Sadly, too much emphasis has been placed on surgeries and the marketing of pharmaceutical drugs. While there are ties where both are necessary more people would avoid surgeries and a life full of pain killers if they would correct the underlying cause of not only back pain but most chronic health issues.
Dr. Drew Hall has been the President of the Blair Upper Cervical Society for 9 years, is a Blair Technique instructor, and has been practicing the Blair Upper Cervical Procedure for the past 16 years. He recovered his health 23 years ago (listen here) and his lasting purpose is to help as many people as possible live the best life they can live.
1. National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2003 National Hospital Discharge Survey [Internet] Rosemont: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; [Cited 2011 Mar 1]. Available from: http://www.aaos.org
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