For informational purposes only. This article is not to be taken for medical advice of any kind. If you suspect a medical issue, see a physician as soon as possible.
The human body is a wonderfully efficient, tough organism, but it is far from perfect. Many of our features are compromises within a basic design that was originally meant to be supported by 4 legs, rather than two. A prime example is our sinuses. If we were 4-footed, mucous would drain out of the nose, but due to our modified upright posture, in humans it drains down into the lungs and throat, and sometimes causes congestion, and other problems.
Another study in compromises is our spinal column, and the neck in particular. The spinal column was designed to have weight suspended more or less evenly below it, all along it’s length, like a suspension bridge. But when humans began to walk upright, the center of weight changed, and most of the weight is born by the lumbar vertebrae, just 5 little bones not much bigger than tennis balls. They now have to bear most of our upper body weight. The other weak spots in the spinal column are the cervical vertebrae of the neck. Originally, the cervical vertebrae were designed to hold the neck above a laterally oriented body. But with out upright posture, the neck has had to adapt to a different curvature to accommodate a much larger skull, with the weight directly on top of it in a delicate balancing act. It’s little wonder things go haywire from time-to-time.
Pinched nerves are a chiropractors bread-and-butter. One of the most common complaints from patients, and fortunately, one of the easiest to treat, most of the time. What happens is this; the nervous system has two types of signals that control every body function and activity. Sensory nerve impulses send information to the brain with information such as pain, heat, hot cold, and positional awareness. Motor nerve impulses are directions from the brain to contract muscles, move body parts, make the heart beat, and control breathing and other body functions. These impulses are sent along nerves which all lead to the spinal chord, and then to the brain. Nerve trunks leave the spinal cord between the vertebrae and branch out all over the body. Due to our upright posture, sometimes nerves can get compressed between the vertebrae, especially at the curves in the lumbar and cervical areas, and near moveable joints such as the wrists, hips and ankles. This is a ‘pinched’ nerve, and can be quite painful as well as interfering with movements. When a nerve is ‘pinched’, the impulses it carries are interrupted. Of course, the human body is very tough, and usually the impulses can be re-routed, but the nerve will still signal that something is wrong by transmitting pain signals.
Pinched nerves in the neck can be caused by a herniated (protruding) cervical disc, arthritis, hyper-extension of joints, and injuries causing swelling. As a rule, they are easily treated by gently pulling the compressing vertebrae apart slightly so the nerve can slip back to it’s normal position. Chiropractors call this an ‘adjustment’, and it serves many other useful functions besides freeing nerve junctions. Many times, this is all that is needed to get relief. If it is due to swelling tissues, ice, elevation and rest will normally fix the problem. Occasionally, the pinch may be so severe that the nerve is actually damaged.
In the most severe cases, surgery may be required to remove bone spurs, restore proper spine curvature, trim bone tissue, or remove herniated discs and replace them. This is rare, but it does happen. Some of the more severe and chronic cases may require steroid injections, and the use of NSAIDS (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflamatory Drugs).
Most of the time, a pinched nerve in the neck can be relieved by a few visits to a chiropractor, a massage therapist, or other Health Care Professional, and maybe a little physical therapy. As always, if you suspect you may have a medical issue, seek the advice of a licensed medical professional as soon as possible.