Neck pain, shoulder pain, headaches?

Should I see an osteopath?

These aches and pains are very common and osteopaths treat this every day. It can be that you lifted something, reached for something, gardening, slept funny, underlying arthritis (spondylosis), whiplash from a car accident or a irritating headache that never seem to fully go away. If you’ve got shoulder pain or neck pain, a pinched nerve or issues from a neck injury, then you should see an osteopath.

Pain down the arm, tingling sensations, pins and needles, and numbness could be as a result of injury to the neck. This may be due to compression of the nerves, which exit the cervical spine (neck). If you’re one of the many who sit in front of a computer all day, you probably have learned to live with a tight neck and shoulders.

Poor posture, especially hour after hour at the desk, is a major cause of sore neck and shoulder muscles because these become overworked and irritated. This leads to weakness in the muscles, which only makes the problem worse. Stress commonly affects pain in these areas too.

As with all problems, trying to diagnose yourself using the Internet or listening to friends who’ve had neck pain is not a good idea and unreliable — This is where we, osteopaths, are trained to help.

Pins & needles or weakness in the arm or hand?

This needs experience to diagnose as the source of the problem could be anywhere along the nerve from the neck to the arm. As an example, Carpal Tunnel (tingling, numbness or pain) is usually confined to the hand, often strikes at night and has its cause outside the neck in the area of the wrist itself. Beware, though – not all tingling in the hand is carpal tunnel… it can come from the neck.

But a disc problem or degeneration in the lower neck also need to be considered as a possible reason. The treatment, of course, will be different depending on the cause, and in some cases I will advise an X-ray.

Headaches

I will just mention here that headaches have many causes, but a big share are routinely caused by tightness of the muscles between the base of your skull and your upper neck. These then irritate the nerves passing through them to your head, giving you a headache. This usually responds well to treatment. Tender points (called trigger points) in other muscles such as the upper trapezius of the shoulder can give pain that is felt elsewhere as a headache.

Migraines and other types of headaches (e.g migraines linked to hormonal changes) occur for different reasons and the effectiveness of treatment depends on the cause and how long you’ve been suffering from them.

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Have you had whiplash or banged your head?

Neck injuries can cause spasm and extreme tenderness in the muscles of the neck and shoulders, and both need caution in assessing to make sure that no serious damage has occurred. They can also lead to dizziness, vertigo (when the room seems to move around you) and headaches, sometimes years after, all of which can be helped.

Can’t turn your head?

Have you woken only to find that you can’t turn your head to one side without a sharp pain stopping you? One visit normally sees a big improvement in the range of movement and the degree of relief. The culprit is often one of the vertebrae (bones) at the top of the neck not rotating as it should, and often painfully trapping a portion of the soft tissue between the joint, resulting in spasm. Very painful, but luckily not serious!

You’ll be surprised at how much better you can feel after just a few treatments and getting some common sense advice about work posture, habits and self care. That’s likely to be very important, at least as important as treatment itself and you’ll be spending a lot more time feeling better than at my clinic!

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Author: Heidi Tryland

I'm a UK Registered Osteopath. I'm Norwegian and graduated from The British College of Osteopathic Medicine in London. I'm also experienced in cranial osteopathy and osteopathy for young children. Born in Norway, I'm fully bilingual and able to practise without limitations in both English and German.