Most neck and upper back pain is caused by a combination of factors, including injury, poor posture, subluxations, stress and disc problems.
The degree of flexibility of the neck, coupled with the fact that it has the least amount of muscular stabilization and it has to support and move your 7 Kg. head, means that the neck is very susceptible to injury.
The spinal cord runs through a space in the vertebrae to send nerve impulses to every part of the body. Between each pair of cervical vertebrae, the spinal cord sends off large bundles of nerves that run down the arms and to some degree, the upper back. This means that if your arm is hurting, it may actually be a problem in the neck! Symptoms in the arms can include numbness, tingling, cold, aching, and “pins and needles”.
Problems in the neck can also contribute to headaches, muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper back, ringing in the ears, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), restricted range of motion and chronic tightness in the neck and upper back.
As explained before, the most common injury to the neck is a whiplash injury.
One of the most common causes of neck pain, and sometimes headaches, is poor posture. There is a very simple rule. Keep your neck in a “neutral” position whenever possible. Don’t bend or hunch your neck forward for long periods. Also, try not to sit in one position for a long time. If you must sit for an extended period, make sure your posture is good: Keep your head in a neutral position, make sure your back is supported, keep your knees slightly lower than your hips, and rest your arms if possible.
Subluxations in the neck and upper back area are extremely common due to the high degree of stress associated with holding up your head, coupled with the high degree of instability in the cervical spine. Most subluxations tend to be centered around four areas: the top of the cervical spine where it meets the skull; in the middle of the cervical spine where the mechanical stress from the head is the greatest; in the transition where the cervical and thoracic vertebrae meet; and in the middle of the thoracic spine where the mechanical stress from the weight of the upper body is greatest.
When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles. In particular, the muscles in their back. The areas most affected are the muscles of the neck, upper back and low back. For most of us, the particular muscle affected by stress is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of trigger points.
The discs in your cervical spine can herniate or bulge and put pressure on the nerves that exit from the spine through that area. Although cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as lumbar discs do, they occasionally can herniate, especially when the discs sustain damage from a whiplash injury.