Monday, 14 June 2010

Pain in the Neck

Many people suffer with chronic upper body pain, either as constant headaches, or painful and stiff neck and shoulders. In a mild form these conditions can mean interrupted sleep and irritability, but in extremes can have a really debilitating affect on everyday life.

Often the only course of action is to take strong painkillers; this is because for many people their condition doesn’t respond to the usual therapies of massage, osteopathy or chiropractic.

Doctors understand the pain cycle, and sometimes administer drugs in an attempt to break it, but for many people the only way they can cope with life is strong painkillers. Not only does this affliction cost them the enjoyment of happy daily life, it puts a strain on relationships, the long term painkillers cause side-effects and the condition causing the pain sets in really deep. Long term, depression often becomes an issue.

The head is very heavy – in a woman it weighs about 4.5 Kg, in a man up to 5Kg, so the “tube” that holds it up – your neck - needs to have a strong straight structure if it is to operate without problems. To make matters more precarious this tube also contains some massive nerve and blood supply, the uninterrupted flow of which are vital to good health. Then we add in the big joint of the jaw (temporomandibular joints or TMJ’s) – and things get really complicated because this is where much stress is held. There is a growing body of medical professionals who now believe that the alignment of the jaw (tmj’s) has a big impact on the rest of the body via the unwelcome pressure on the Vagus nerve.

Many women have a weak upper body so when something causes the neck to lose its integrity – perhaps a fall, a difficult pregnancy, strenuous lifting, carrying heavy bags etc, the structure doesn’t always move back into its correct position. The body is very good at accommodating issues, so the result is that the big muscles like the sternocleomastiod, trapezius and others adjust under constant strain, the cervical vertebrae shift under this influence, and before you know it the whole area is operating badly, building up calcification and putting more pressure on nerve and blood vessels.

The result is pain; it can build up inside the head, at the TMJ and/or temples, on the occipital area of muscles at the base of the skull, or in the neck structure, or in all of them! Almost without fail the shoulders and upper back are also very uncomfortable, with deep muscles like the rhomboid holding hard-to-reach knots.

Fortunately modern medical technology is making progress:

Cold Laser Therapy is a gentle but highly effective treatment for this condition. It is a pain free, non invasive light which alleviates the pain and softens the neck and shoulder tissues; this breaks the pain cycle and generates serotonin, resulting in great relief for the patient. Cold Laser is used as a medical therapy (sometimes referred to as photomedicine, or biophotomodulation) in a tiny power dosage, as little as 5 milliwatts – not enough to light up a Christmas tree bulb. However the body welcomes this light, utilising the photon energy and taking the light as a signal to the brain to start making repairs and changes. It is a gentle treatment which leaves patients relaxed in a way they haven’t achieved for a long time.

Some people who come for therapy have had chronic headaches for up to 10 years – yes that’s every day for 10 years! They have usually tried just about everything, both allopathic medicines from their doctors and all the alternatives they can find. Luckily we find that this pattern can be broken with promising results in the first few days, after the fourth session real progress is clear and by six sessions we usually have a great result. No side-effects, no drugs, no pain.

Results from the recent Lancet review of Low level laser Therapy for chronic neck pain.
The Lancet report declares that neck pain is approaching epidemic proportions with 10 - 24% of the population affected. Health economic reports from USA and European Union state that musculoskeletal injury and disease costs €240 Billion / €194 Billion annually. The paper also reports that pharmacological therapies for neck pain are widely used but have "not shown any conclusive evidence of benefit" The BMJ agrees "There isn't any specific research that shows drugs help neck pain". There is now more evidence for the use of laser for neck pain than any other medical procedure. The Lancet report says "(Relief using) Laser for neck pain lasted for up to 22 weeks.Trials of LLLT for knee osteoarthritis tendinopathies and low back pain reported similar results". "This contrasts with drug therapies where the effect ends rapidly when treatment is discontinued."
Find out more:

The Lancet, Vol 374; December 2009
Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials
Dr Roberta T Chow MBBS, Prof Mark I Johnson PhD, Prof Rodrigo AB Lopes-Martins PhD, Prof Jan M Bjordal PT

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