Neck pains can be very annoying. However, in severe cases, it can be immobilizing and certainly affect your everyday activities. To understand and appreciate treatment, you need to know the causes of neck pain. This way, you will know if the healing benefits of cervical traction can help you. But first, you need to understand the basics.
How does Neck Pain Start?
There are a number of ways that neck pains can be caused. The most common cause is by some injury brought about by an accident. Neck pains can also come about when you do something unexpected or when you undertake some sudden physical activities. Excessive bodily movement, repetitive and heavy load lifting as well as working under awkward positions can also trigger the pain in your neck.
Why Does it Affect Your Daily Life?
If your problem has become chronic, meaning that you have been suffering from the pain for a long time, then this is a signal that it has already affected your body beyond just limiting you in your activities.
Why Do We Feel Pain?
Pain is a very individual and personal experience. The severity of the disorder is only one factor affecting the pain. Others include emotions, social expectations, and upbringing, to name a few.
The human body is made up of many different cells, tissues, and organs. It interacts with the rest of the world through sensory input and motor output. Pain is an automatic reaction and protective response for humans to use when they are harmed or in danger of being harmed.
This emotional component is evidenced by the use of the same descriptive words for pain and love, eg., burning, throbbing, aching, intense, sharp, etc.
Obviously, it is quite hard to study and research pain. Only relatively recently scientists have started to understand it better. In the past, it was thought that our bodies had a simple ‘hard-wired’ system of pain transmission, where stimulation of a pain receptor somewhere in the body would register as pain in the brain. It was thought that you needed input into one end of the system to get output from the other end.
This is not always the case. Often there is pain despite there no longer being any input from the pain receptors because the original injury has healed. All tissue heals at a different rate (with the skin taking only a few weeks whereas bone may take a few months) but all tissue is usually well healed within six months. After that time, according to the old theory, there should no longer be any pain.
Pain is a double-edged sword. It is both a friend and an enemy. It warns us when we are in danger and helps us to adjust ourselves to circumstances
On the other hand, chronic pain can be just as damaging and debilitating as any disease or disorder. It can stop people from doing things they want to do or need to do, cause them suffering, even drive them to suicide.
So why do so many people complain of pain even after the local injury has healed? Recent research done over the last twenty years suggests that the ‘hard-wired’ pain system is incorrect.
There appears to be two very distinct types of pain.
Acute pain is the pain felt from a recent injury somewhere in the body. It is caused by chemicals released by the dead and injured cells irritating the nerve endings in the area and by pressure in the tissue caused by swelling. The impulses from the nerve endings are transmitted up the nerve into an area of the spinal cord called the dorsal horn. The cells in the spinal cord then relay information to the brain where it is perceived by the individual as an unpleasant sensation.
This type of pain indicates that damage has occurred to the tissue. It has a very important purpose – to make you rest the injured part so that the body can have time to heal.
Chronic pain is completely different from acute pain and does not necessarily indicate that harm is occurring to the tissue. As mentioned previously all body parts should be healed by six months and yet pain can still be felt.
Chronic pain is one of the major causes of disability in the United States. It is estimated that more than 100 million people are affected by chronic pain, with an estimated $6oo billion in annual health care costs . This is a huge burden on our society; to address this issue we must first understand the factors that cause chronic pain and vice versa. These factors vary from person to person, but there are some typical considerations which can be attributed to chronic pain.
It is only over recent years that researchers have determined why chronic pain might occur. There are several mechanisms that are thought to be involved.
What Causes Back and Neck Pain?
- Postural Stress– Poor posture stresses your spine. Ligaments are overstretched, muscles tire and joints and nerves are put under pressure.
- Muscle Strains– Minor back muscle strains quickly improve on their own, but more severe strains will need physiotherapy treatment to relieve pain and promote healing.
- Ligament Sprains– Stretching ligaments too far or too quickly makes them tear and bleed into surrounding tissues, causing swelling and pain. Motor vehicle and sporting accidents are common causes.
- Spinal misalignment- Disruptions to the spine can be caused by a combination of poor posture and weak ligaments. As a result, your spine is not aligned properly, putting pressure on nerves or creating spinal irregularities that may lead to pain.
- Nerve compression- Many spinal conditions are caused by nerve compression. This means that your nerves (both those inside your body and those outside) are becoming pinched together or caught in a tangle, which leads to pain in the shoulders or neck area.
- Disc Problems– Discs are anchored to the vertebrae, above and below, so they cannot ‘slip’ out of place. They can wear down with age, but most disc problems arise from injury. Discs can bulge (prolapse), herniate or even rupture.
- Sciatica– The sciatic nerves run from the lower back, through the buttocks and down the back of your legs. Irritation anywhere along this pathway will cause pain in the back and legs.
- Arthritis-Vertebral and facet joints can be affected by arthritis, causing degeneration and inflammation within the joint and the growth of bony spurs on the edges of the vertebrae.
Neck pains can also be caused by accidents or injuries. When your head experiences sudden traumatic movement, the resulting rebound may cause neck injuries. This is commonly known as whiplash. The whipping motion of your head can jar every strand of muscle that supports your neck. It can also dislocate or misalign the bone structure in your neck. The result naturally is constant neck pain.
To alleviate pain and correct bone structure misalignment, cervical traction can be applied.
What is Cervical Traction and How Does it Work?
As a general medical procedure, traction seeks to employ two opposing forces applied to different parts of the body. The aim is to relieve tension and correct alignment of nerves, muscles, and bones.
Specifically, neck traction seeks to pull the head away from the body to stretch the neck muscles and to distract the spaces of spinal bones. This action will release tension, thus eliminating pain.
Cervical traction involves the use of a device that will attempt to pull your spine upwards to create spaces between your cervical discs. This is also known as disc distraction. Therapy using this method can correct the alignment of the spine, thus restoring proper posture and releasing tension in the spinal column.
Traction can also stretch the muscles. The flexion of muscles releases built-up tension around the nerves, thus mitigating another source of pain.
Although more studies and research are needed, there is clinical evidence that clearly shows the efficacy of cervical traction in eliminating painful episodes of the neck. This is especially true for mild cases of neck pain and injuries. For more serious cases, prolonged cervical traction therapy and additional orthopedic intervention may be needed to achieve complete treatment.
Indeed, the healing benefits of cervical traction can solve many cases of neck pains. It can be used as an active therapeutic method or as a regular muscle and bone structure exercise to maintain the optimum condition of the spinal column.
Different Types of Neck Traction Devices: Flexing the Pain Away
The most common types of neck traction devices use the so-called “over the door” technique. These devices normally require the patient to sit upright on a chair. A strap harness is positioned under the chin of the patient. This chin strap is attached to a weight that will be suspended over the door through the use of pulleys.
The weight will pull the neck upwards, thus stretching the surrounding muscles and allowing the bone structure to distract. These actions will release the pent-up tensions, diminishing the pain in the area.
Ideally, the weight suspended at the other end of the chin strap should be 20 pounds, but this can be increased to a maximum of 50 pounds depending on the condition of the patient and the effect of traction. “Over the door” neck traction devices are the first implements of this orthopedic procedure.
Other types of neck traction techniques use pneumatic devices. Most of these devices are more compact and portable.
Pneumatic neck traction devices attempt to pull the head while pushing on the shoulder of the patient. This action will achieve traction of the muscle and nerve endings and flex the neck bone structures to reduce tension in the area.
Most modern neck traction techniques use the pneumatic device for therapy. Normally, the patient controls the application of force. Pneumatic neck traction devices can deliver 20 pounds of pressure on muscles and bones.
Some types of neck traction techniques use devices that are variations of “over the door” and pneumatic devices. There are neck traction devices that have head frames attached to a free-standing table or headboard. These are “over the door” variations, but the aim and delivery of pressure are still the same.
Some varieties of pneumatic devices have rotating head frames and soft movable cushions. The object of rotation is to flex the muscles and bone structures of the neck so that traction can be achieved in several parts. Generally, patients also have control over the application of pressure and the direction of rotation.
Other types of neck traction devices use a C-shaped inflatable unit. There is a frame to hold the patient’s head and a harness to keep the feet immobile. When inflated, these devices can stretch the neck and the entire spinal column. The degree of flexion is dependent on the amount of air introduced into the inflatable device.
Best Cervical Traction Devices You Can Buy Online
There are many cervical traction devices you can find on the Internet. Some cost as low as $60, while others can have world-class (aka expensive) prices. Most traction devices today are portable. Manufacturers are creating these products to complement mobile and busy lifestyles. Portability means you can bring your traction device wherever you go, and you can always keep it under the bed after your traction session.
The following products are good cervical traction devices that can help alleviate your neck and back pains.
1) ComfortTrac Cervical Home Traction Device.
The main selling point of this traction device is the idea of a custom fit. There are adjustable supports for the neck within an ergonomic design so that users can create the right angle and pressure to alleviate their pain symptoms. The promise here is that users can get instant results if they are suffering from compression on the spine.
The pros and cons of this traction device.
- Adjustable support around the neck
- Comfortable ergonomics and padding
- Quick pain relief for some users.
- The issues with the carrying case
- The lack of instructions for all the parts
There are lots of positive reviews from people with spinal issues that appreciate the comfort provided by this system. The adjustments can help and the padding and band around the head are just right for many users. There are always going to be varied reviews depending on the user’s condition. But, many are impressed with what they receive. Some agree that the impact on their pain management is far quicker than they expected. Some use it for as little as 15 minutes a day and still see significant improvements.
The complaints often center on the lack of instructions. Many users are not sure how to adjust the device and are left struggling with how to fit it properly. As well, there is a lot of concern about the carrying case, which is flimsy and often breaks right away.
There are two issues that I want to highlight here. The first is that different buyers seem to get different promises about the carry case. Some receive something that is large and functional, others got something a bit more simplistic and others didn’t get anything at all. The best advice here is to expect none and be pleasantly surprised. The other issue is the lack of instructions. It is difficult to see how to get this product to achieve that custom fit. The manual doesn’t explain all the parts and requires better diagrams.
In the end, there are enough good reports here to give this traction device a decent mark. If you are struggling with neck or upper back pain then this product is one that you may be interested in.
Is it still recommendable?
There are some common issues here that leave buyers questioning the price paid. This is very expensive so it needs to be perfect for your condition to be of worth. New buyers are advised to consult their doctor about the potential of the device before buying it.
2) EasyGiraffe Neck Traction Device.
This next option is on a completely different end of the scale in terms of price. Where the first model retailed at well-over $400, this one is under $20. This might suggest that you don’t get as much in terms of function or pain relief. However, there are actually a lot more positive reviews for a more simple, user-friendly product. 75% of Amazon.com buyers gave it 5 stars at the time of writing this review.
A closer look at the product, though, reveals that it is just as simple and user-friendly as it looks. It’s a lightweight neck traction device with a single strap and a Velcro fastener. This makes it very easy to put on and adjust. It also means that there are fewer components to break or lose over time.
Especially if you often move from one house to the next, you may find the ease of use in this model more attractive than the complexity in other ones.
The pros and cons of this traction device.
- The simple inflation system
- The feel of the material on the skin
- The transportation pouch
- Not enough support for some major neck conditions
- The velcro straps could be stronger.
This is an easy to use product that provides both physical and mental relief. The design is straightforward and intuitive, making it simple for anyone to operate without any complicated instructions or equipment required.
This system works by using a stack of three neck pillows and a basic hand pump. Users can inflate the pillow to the right level for support and pain relief and let them deflate as needed. When it is no longer needed, it deflates entirely and folds up into a little portable pouch. This means it is ideal for use at home and at work. Users like the user-friendly design and the soft feel of the material. It feels good against bare skin like a comfortable pillow more than a medical device.
There is, however, one important downside that perhaps comes from the lower price point of this item. There are velcro straps at the front of the device that help it stay in place around the neck. They aren’t the strongest choice for this type of inflatable model and can come undone too easily.
Is it still recommendable?
There are issues with the straps and the pain relief isn’t always targeting the right areas. However, this is a great low-cost solution for many people that suffer from poor posture or low-level neck pain. It isn’t the most impressive medical tool but it is a user-friendly solution for a wider demographic of users.
3) Trusted Medical Solution Cervical Neck Traction Device
When we look at the photo of this device on sales pages, it is easy to assume that we are looking at exactly the same product as the EasyGiraffe system. There is the same approach with the stacked pillows, the soft material on the outside and the hand pump for customized inflation. So what is it about this product that is different or in any way better?
The pros and cons of this traction device.
- The feel of the material on the three chambers
- The hand pump
- The strength and length of the velcro straps
- Not enough support for major, chronic neck conditions
- Fits shorter necks better than longer necks
The main difference here is the design of the velcro straps that were such an issue above. Here the brand makes a point of mentioning that other companies don’t offer the right strength or length in their velcro. Here it is longer for larger necks and that also means it is more secure. Otherwise, the benefits are pretty much the same with the portability on offer, the comfort and the ease of use.
Again, there are mixed reviews on the results achieved based on the user’s neck condition. The general consensus here seems to be that this is for general use and light neck pain rather than a medical condition. Some people that have used traction in physiotherapy sessions were disappointed by the lack of support and pain relief here. There is also the suggestion that this model is made for shorter necks because of the height of the pillows.
Is it still recommendable?
This product is still recommendable for those with small issues of their neck and back muscles. If you have a more pressing concern, try something more heavy-duty. Nevertheless, the product can help many users.
4) NyPot Premium Head Hammock.
The concept behind this hammock device is a little different. The idea here is that you create a suspended hammock shape with the neck support and cords from a doorknob. You then lie down on the floor and use the weight of your neck to create the support needed for pain relief. There isn’t much else to the product than that, which explains the low price.
The pros and cons of this #.
- The comfort of the hammock
- The adaptability for different body parts
- The low price
- Not the most practical method for all bedrooms
- Needs an additional mat for the floor
There are some people that really love this product and the support offered. When they get the right height and the right angle it creates the perfect system to stretch out their neck and reduce the tension. Some also say that the simplicity and adaptability of the device mean that you can use it on other parts of the body too. The cords are built to last and the padding and materials in the hammock seem to be durable.
This is a product where the theory behind the process is sometimes better than the execution. The device relies on users having doorknobs, not door handles, at the right head. You also need to be sure that the door is secure and you aren’t going to get in other people’s way. There is also the recommendation to get a yoga mat because while it is great for posture, it might hurt the back after a while.
Is it still recommendable?
This is a bit of a love it or hate it product where it will either work wonders for neck pain relief or prove to be completely impractical. The best advice here is to think carefully about where you would set this up in your home. If there is no obvious place where it would work, move on to a different option.
5) Instapark Cervical Neck Traction Device.
For this next model, we go back to something a little more familiar. There are similarities here between these features and the ones seen in the Trusted Medical Solutions model. There is an inflatable neck pillow with the hand pump and a long velcro strap with a loop that secures it in place. The main difference here is that you get one big pillow instead of the layered effect above. This could suit those that struggled with the shape and size of the ones above.
The pros and cons of this traction device.
- There is just the one chamber for a more comfortable fit
- The material is soft and pleasant
- The long velcro strap is nice and secure
- It doesn’t always provide the right corrections or pain relief
- Some issues with the hose and air supply into the chamber
The benefits here are much the same with the ease of use, the comfort of the material around the neck and the user-friendly hand pump. The company makes a big deal about the portability of the device for use away from home and while traveling.
Comments about the comfort and support on offer are quite mixed. There are some that found the pain relief they needed. Others struggled with it because it didn’t stretch the neck and realign it in the way they needed. One user said it was little more than an immobilization device. There have also been a few incidents where the hose for the air pump stopped working and the airflow was restricted.
Is it still recommendable?
It seems that there are areas where the brand could make some improvements with the quality and support offered. This product isn’t going to be for everyone and there are more heavy-duty options out there. But, it still offers some stability and pain relief for people on the go.
6) M Pain Management Technologies Neck Traction Device
This last product is the one that most resembles a medical device. It looks like something that you would wear after coming out of hospital or surgery. This could be an issue for those that don’t want to draw too much attention to their neck problems. Or, it could prove to be a good choice for those that need more serious support and corrections in their neck. The idea here is that it will ease pain while also offering better spinal alignment and stretching the neck.
The pros and cons of this traction device.
- Plenty of adjustments for a custom fit
- Designed to aid a lot of different problems
- Effective with the right fit
- A bit extreme for small-scale neck issues
- Could use a few more instructions
The majority of reviews for this device on Amazon.com are positive – even if they don’t give away much about the features or the effects. It works for their needs and they are happy to carry on using it. This suggests that the shape and adjustable features on this device go far enough to help users with different needs. Some use it to help ease pain in their neck from repeated strain while others may have deeper spinal issues.
One of the problems with this product is that there is the assumption that buyers know exactly how to use it. It isn’t that complicated once you get used to it – but it isn’t an inflatable pillow either. One user couldn’t understand what the key was for and wished there were better instructions.
Is it still recommendable?
This device could be a bit extreme for those that don’t know exactly what they need and exactly how to use it. But, there are enough positive reviews to show that users can still get the pain relief and support they need with the right adjustments. If you know that this type of support has worked in the past, this could be a helpful aid.
Other Neck & Back Traction Devices to Consider
7. NeckPro Over-Door Traction Device
One of the least expensive in the market, NeckPro Over-Door Traction Device offers an easy to use and traditional gadget for neck traction. It follows the old models of over-door cervical traction devices but of course with a few twists.
NeckPro uses a special head halter to support and protect your head while in therapy. The halter is attached to a set cord that can be pulled through a pulley system. The revolutionary technology of NeckPro is its use of a compression spring and ratcheting device. These eliminate the need for weights, and the patient can simply pull the cord and achieve up to 20 pounds of pressure. A single click of the ratcheting device equals one pound of pressure. Thus, monitoring of traction strength has been made easy.
8. Saunders Cervical Hometrac Deluxe
The Saunders Cervical Hometrac Deluxe (model 7045) is not the most expensive, but it is not cheap either. It is a prescription required device, so you will need a prescription from your doctor before you can buy it online.
The Saunders Model 7045 uses a patented rotating wedge for the neck, which can be adjusted to match the dimensions of your head and neck. This allows for superior comfort and flexibility.
The unit can deliver a maximum of 50 pounds of traction strength. The application of pressure can be controlled by the user. The Saunders Model directs the force of traction toward the base of the head, which effectively disallows TMJ compression through the chin. It comes with a chic black carrying bag, which means you can bring it anywhere you go.
9. Pronex Cervical Traction Neck Unit
Pronex is a simple device. It is durable and compact, so you can put it in your backpack. It provides anatomically correct traction and can evenly distribute force along the neck and upper back area.
The patient controls the delivery of force through a hand pump; thus, it ensures gentle application of pressure for an even distraction in the posterior and anterior disc of the spine. It is ergonomically designed to support the natural curvature of the neck area. The soft foam structure, which is coated with polyurethane, provides comfort while in use.
Factors that Affect the Efficacy of Cervical Traction
The effectiveness of cervical traction primarily depends on three major factors: the strength of pressure applied on affected areas, the direction of traction force, and the duration and frequency of therapy sessions. It is important to let licensed medical practitioners provide the appropriate instructions and details of treatment using cervical traction procedure.
Strength of Pressure
As a basic principle, the application of force to the cervical discs should not be too forceful. That’s because the inter-vertebral cervical discs are small and relatively unstable. So, at first application, the patient should properly determine the strength of force needed to alleviate pain.
If the minimum application of force does not mitigate the pain in the affected areas, it must be adjusted until the proper strength is achieved. Needless to say, application of pressure and determination of appropriate force should be carried out gradually. This is to minimize adverse effects and to maximize the benefits of cervical traction procedures.
The Direction of Traction
Constant cervical joint spasms can be felt especially if the patient is suffering from neck pains. The spasm is mainly due to cervical spine extension, thus increasing root irritation. The normal reaction to this is to flex the spine vertically to relieve the extension of the cervical spine. The result is the distraction of the spaces of the cervical spine and correction of posture, thus relieving the pain.
This maneuver is the one being replicated by the cervical traction procedure. By helping patients achieve proper spine posture and alignment, the pain is generally alleviated. That is why the direction of traction is critical to obtaining relief from cervical spine misalignment. Normally, patients are directed to sit straight while traction is applied vertically through a pulling motion.
Duration and Frequency of Therapy
Again, the duration and frequency of the cervical traction procedure will primarily depend on its result. If the patient cannot be relieved through short traction time, the application may be extended until relief is achieved.
Cervical traction therapy should be frequent especially during the first stages of treatment. Sessions can be reduced if episodes of cervical spine pains become more infrequent. Later, traction may be used as needed only, or it can be discontinued if spinal pain does not reoccur.
Understanding Back and Spine Anatomy
The human spine is at the center of the body, connecting the head to the pelvis, and supporting everything in between. The spine is straight when viewed from behind, but from the side, it is shaped like an S.
The spine consists of 27 to 33 bones (vertebra), depending upon how you count them and who you are counting.
The top 7 bones are the neck (cervical spine), the next 12 are the thoracic spine (one for each rib), and the next five are the low back (lumbar spine).
The next bone is called the sacrum, it is a wedge-shaped structure connecting the spine to the pelvis. The sacrum is made up of five vertebrae that have fused together when we were babies to make one solid bone, therefore some people count it as one bone while others count it as five bones.
The last section (coccyx) is our remnant of a tail. Some people have longer tails than others, ranging from 2 to 4 bones.
Whilst the shape of each spine bone (vertebra) is slightly different from the one above, they do have a lot in common. The big lump of bone in front is called the body, it supports most of the weight. Coming off the body is a ring of bone, within which the spinal cord is located. Now you can see why it takes a lot of trauma to damage the well-protected spinal cord. The bits of bone that stick out from the ring aren’t anything special, they just act as levers and give the muscles and ligaments something to attach to. The final important component is the facet (zygapophyseal) joints. Each vertebra is connected to its neighbor by two facet joints, which control movement and provide stability – to make sure that we don’t fall apart.
The structure between the vertebra is called the disk. It is like a big rubber spacer that keeps the vertebra apart and yet allows for movement. On the inside of the disk is a gel-like substance (nucleus pulposus), just like your blue toothpaste. On the outside is a thick, tough, tissue (annulus fibrosus), arranged in layers like an onion. This is the wall of the disk and this keeps it all together.
The vertebra is connected by very strong ligaments and muscles. Some of the ligaments and muscles go from one vertebra to the next whilst others cross many bones before connecting to a vertebra higher up. There are far too many individual ligaments and muscles to talk about individually, suffice to say that without them we would be in trouble.
Like every other structure in the body, there are also blood vessels and nerves, etc., supplying all of the tissues in the spine.
How Does the Back Work?
The spine is shaped like an S to give us a little spring. If you have ever seen the reverberation of a steel rod dropped on its’ end you will know what we mean. The spring allows for shock absorption, thereby reducing trauma to the spine.
The reason we have so many bones in the spine is to allow for all of those wonderful movements in any direction that we take for granted. Each vertebra needs only move a little bit but the total can move a long way.
As you can see, as we move down the spine each vertebra and disk gets progressively bigger, this is because each vertebra has to support a little bit more weight than the previous one. The body of the vertebra is the biggest part because it supports most of the weight.
The ring of bone off the body protects the spinal cord from any damage. The sticking out bits off the ring of bone act as levers. A muscle attached to the end of a lever will be able to generate far more force than one attached directly to the ring.
The facet joints control our movement. They close down when we arch backward and open when we bend forwards, hence we can go further forward than backward. Really we don’t need to go too far backward as we can’t see anything and our arms can’t reach far behind us. It is just as easy to turn around.
The structures of the disk act as a hydraulic mechanism. Weight above squashes the gel, which pushes out against the wall, but the strength of the wall keeps it all together. It is the elasticity and flexibility of the walls that allow for extra shock absorption.
The muscles that attach from one vertebra to the next control positioning, while the muscles that cross many vertebrae are the prime movers. Imagine trying to reverse a train without tracks, how would you control where each carriage went? This the role of the short muscles, they keep the bones all in line, so that the long muscles can move the spine as a whole.
An absolutely ingenious piece of engineering.
What can go wrong?
After all of your reading so far you are probably thinking that it is marvelous that more doesn’t go wrong.
The main thing to understand here is that anything can go wrong. Anyone of those structures mentioned above and plenty more, are all a potential source of pain. Another way of looking at it is that pain is transmitted along nerves and every structure in the spine has nerves connected to it, so any structure is capable of causing pain.
Damage to a structure of the back or neck can be the result of violent trauma or a collection of smaller insults over a longer period. Whatever the cause, as a result, tissue damage occurs, causing death to a significant number of cells. The dead cells release irritant chemicals, leading to inflammation. Fluid moves into the area and swelling occurs. The nerve endings nearby become irritated by the increase in pressure and the chemical irritants, and subsequently, pain is felt.
This inflammatory condition and attendant pain are perfectly normal. The pain serves a useful function by telling us that damage has occurred and that the damaged structure needs rest to recover. In most minor cases rest is all that is required for recovery.
Unfortunately, life is not always that simple. Once damaged, many of the structures in the back fail to work properly again, which can lead to ongoing problems. This can range from stiffness causing a restriction of movement through to lack of support creating instability. And in a minority of cases, the irritated nerve endings can set up a constant, unremitting, pain that remains long after the tissue heals.
What does this all mean? For one thing with all the different structures in the back and all the different things that can go wrong, it explains why there are so many treatments out there and so many experts promoting their special technique for back and neck pain. It also explains why, no one, single, treatment could possibly fix all back or neck pain – there are so many different things that can go wrong.
The key to all of this is that sufferers of back and neck pain must get a correct diagnosis first. Without knowing which structure is causing the pain and why, how can the best treatment possibly be implemented. Once known which structure it is causing the pain, the most appropriate treatment follows automatically.
Do’s and Dont’s of Neck and Back Pain
Back and neck pain can strike at any time – so it does help to be prepared. Remember this advice is for short term, acute back or neck pain only – not necessarily for long-term chronic pain. As a safe and general rule, “if it hurts, stop doing it.”
First and foremost, DO NOT IGNORE THE PAIN. It is there for a reason – the body’s way of telling you something is wrong. It may sound obvious, but the first step is to stop doing whatever started the pain attack in the first place. For example, if you are gardening and feel a sudden sharp twinge, don’t be tempted to do “just another five minutes” before it gets dark, or before the rain comes on. Stop what you are doing and ease yourself gently into a more comfortable position.
- DO try lying face down on the floor, hands by your sides, immediately the pain starts. This takes the pressure off your spine.
- DO apply a heat pack. The warmth will ease the pain and help reduce any muscle spasm.
- DO see your physiotherapist or doctor after one or two days if the pain is still bad. Before you do, make a few notes on how the pain started, how bad it is, what makes it better/worse etc. The sooner you seek advice the sooner you will get better.
- DO take painkillers at regular intervals (but no more than the recommended dose, and always read the instructions).
- DO use a relaxation tape if you have one to help calm the mind and ease body tension.
- DO use this rest period to review your life and try to work out ways of avoiding the problem in the future. Resolve to improve your posture and, if necessary, to buy a lumbar roll to help you sit properly.
Now let’s look at some of the things you should avoid when in pain:
- DON’T be a hero. If it is more comfortable to crawl around on all fours to get to the bathroom than to stand up, then do so.
- DON’T do any bending, twisting or lifting. Learn the correct techniques.
- DON’T say no if a partner or friend offers to massage your back. Just ensure they treat you gently and stop them if anything they are doing causes pain. Do NOT allow them to touch the spine.
- DON’T rush back to the activity which caused the pain, even when you feel much better. In 100 years who will know or care if the lawn was uncut/kitchen extension built/garden shed tidied out.
Preventing Further Back Pain
Here is some useful advice to help you prevent back pain:
- Lifting-With your feet shoulder-width apart, bend at the hips and knees. Grip the load firmly and hold it close to your body, tighten your stomach muscles and use the strong muscles of your legs to lift. Keep your back as straight as possible. Avoid twisting – turn by using your feet, not your back.
- Posture-Think tall: chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, chin tucked in and head level. Posture should be stable, balanced and relaxed when sitting, walking or standing.
- Sitting-Don’t stay seated for too long – stand up, stretch and walk around. The right back support will also help.
- Exercise-Stay in shape – healthy body-weight is less strain on your back. Your physiotherapist can show you how to keep your back flexible and strong with correct back and abdominal exercises.
- Driving-Good support from your car seat will prevent back pain. If you need more lower back support, use a lumbar roll or a rolled-up towel.
- Sleeping-Your mattress should be firm enough to support your natural shape.
If your back hurts, don’t ignore the pain. If you have tried all the home remedies and nothing seems to work, go and see a doctor or a physiotherapist. They have the training to correctly assess the problem and provide other safe, effective treatments. There is no need for anyone to suffer longer then they have to!