Neck and Upper Back Pain

Most people are unaware of how often they move their neck throughout the day until they're unable to do it. If that's your experience, don't live with the pain any longer. Call your Arlington Heights Chiropractor today for an appointment. The neck’s degree of flexibility coupled with the fact that it has the least amount of muscular stability also has to support and maneuver your 14 - 16 pound head. This means that your neck is vulnerable to injury. Imagine your head and neck are like a bowling ball that's being held on top of a stick by small, thin, rubber bands. Now think about what little force is necessary to disrupt that delicate balance.

Even if your arm hurts, the culprit might be your neck because the spinal cord runs through an opening in the vertebrae, sending nerve impulses to each and every part of your 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 hurts, it may really stem from a neck problem! Symptoms for this condition can include numbness, tingling, cold, aching, and "pins and needles. People often mistake these symptoms for  carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful condition, affecting the hands. This condition is most often found in people who work on computer keyboards or perform other repetitive motion tasks for long time periods.

However, neck problems can also be responsible for headaches, muscle spasms in the shoulders and upper back, ringing in the ears, otitis media (middle ear inflammation, often mistaken for an ear infection in children), temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), restricted range of motion, and chronic tightness in the neck and upper back. 

You hear  the neck and upper back discussed together because most of the muscles associated with the neck either attach to or are located in the upper back, including the trapezius, the levator scapulae, the cervical paraspinal muscles, and the scalenes. 

Causes of Neck and Upper Back Pain

Most neck and upper back pain stems from a combination of circumstances, including injury,  poor posture, chiropractic subluxations, stress, and in some cases, disc problems. 


Whiplash is undoubtedly the most common neck injury. Whiplash is caused by sudden movement of the head either backward, forward, or sideways that results in damaging the supporting muscles, ligaments, and other connective tissues in the neck and upper back. Car accidents, sports injuries, or work accidents may all cause whiplash. Whiplash injuries are a serious problem and need to be taken very seriously. Because symptoms of whiplash can take several weeks or even months to show up, it's easy to be fooled into believing your injury is not as severe as it really is. Because people often don't feel pain at first, they think they are not injured,and then don’t seek treatment following a car accident or a sporting injury. Unfortunately, people often find that damage has become permanent once more serious complications arise. Many studies show that even years after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, nearly half of them still complain of suffering symptoms from their injuries. If you've been in a car accident or have had any other kind of accident that has affected your neck, don't trick yourself into thinking you’ve escaped injury just because you're currently not in pain. Let O’Hara Family Chiropractic help you out.

Poor Posture

One of the most common causes of neck pain and often times headaches is poor posture. It's easy to form bad posture habits without even realizing it. Sometimes an activity as common as reading in bed can lead to pain, headaches, and even more severe problems. The basic rule of thumb is simple: whenever possible, keep your neck in a "neutral" position. This means try to refrain from bending or hunching your neck forward over long periods of time. Also, try to shift your sitting position during the day. If your job requires that you sit for extended periods, make sure you maintain good posture by keeping your head in a neutral position, making sure your back is supported by placing your knees slightly lower than your hips and relaxing your arms if possible.


The simple act of holding your head up all day places stress on your neck and upper back. In addition to this, the high degree of instability of the cervical spine creates risk for subluxations. Most subluxations tend to center 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 at its greatest; in the transition where the cervical and thoracic areas of the spine come together; and in the middle of the  thoracic spine where the mechanical stress from the weight of the upper body is greatest. Look in the mirror. Do you notice if your head is tilted or if one shoulder is higher than the other? These are signs of  subluxation. Often, women notice their sleeve lengths are different or that the necklace they're wearing is hanging off center. Moreover, if someone looks at you from the side, they may notice that your head juts forward from your shoulders, a condition known as FHP - forward head posture. This is a very common condition for people who stoop over a computer all day. Subluxations are a debt to the body. Subluxations such as this can worsen over time if not treated through chiropractic care.


When most people become stressed, they unconsciously contract their muscles, and most often, their back muscles. Referred to as  “muscle guarding,”  this survival response is designed to guard against physical injury. In today's world, we're not regularly exposed to physical danger, but whenever we become emotionally stressed, we inadvertently resort to muscle guarding.  Muscles that are most affected are those in the neck, upper back, and low back. Most commonly affected is the trapezius muscle, where daily stress usually leads to chronic tightness and the development of  trigger points. 

There are two ways to effectively reduce physical effects from stress: exercise regularly and perform deep breathing exercises. By decreasing the physical effects of stress, you substantially reduce the amount of tightness and pain in your upper back and neck.

Disc Herniations

When a disc is "bulging," we call it a herniated disc. When your cervical spine disc herniates, it places pressure on the nerves that exit the spine through that area. Cervical discs do not herniate nearly as often as do lumbar discs, but they can occasionally herniate, especially when the discs experience damage due to a whiplash injury. Contact O’Hara Family Chiropractic today to alleviate your pain!

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