Your neck, also called the cervical spine, begins at the base of the skull and contains seven small vertebrae. Incredibly, the cervical spine supports the full weight of your head, which is on average about 12 pounds. While the cervical spine can move your head in nearly every direction, this flexibility makes the neck very susceptible to pain and injury.
The neck’s susceptibility to injury is due in part to biomechanics. Activities and events that affect cervical biomechanics include extended sitting, repetitive movement, accidents, falls and blows to the body or head, normal aging, and everyday wear and tear. Neck pain can be very bothersome, and it can have a variety of causes.
The back is a complicated structure of bones, joints, ligaments and muscles. You can sprain ligaments, strain muscles, rupture disks, and irritate joints, all of which can lead to back pain. While sports injuries or accidents can cause back pain, sometimes the simplest of movements—for example, picking up a pencil from the floor— can have painful results. In addition, arthritis, poor posture, obesity, and psychological stress can cause or complicate back pain. Back pain can also directly result from disease of the internal organs, such as kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, or bone loss.
There are many sources of dysfunction in the upper back (thoracic spine), especially when we consider the numerous joints and the interlacing of muscles that comprise the thoracic spine and rib cage. If one muscle or joint is injured or inflamed, it can create a cascade of pain and dysfunction that can be difficult to treat.The thoracic spine can generate painful sensations from many conditions, although most upper back pain is due to muscle irritation. Most treatment programs for spine conditions in the upper back include conservative (nonsurgical) care and may involve chiropractic adjustments.
Headaches have many causes, or “triggers.” These may include foods, environmental stimuli (noises, lights, stress, etc.) and/or behaviors (insomnia, excessive exercise, blood sugar changes, etc.). About 5 percent of all headaches are warning signals caused by physical problems. Ninety-five percent of headaches are primary headaches, such as tension, migraine, or cluster headaches. These types of headaches are not caused by disease. The headache itself is the primary concern. A report released in 2001 by researchers at the Duke University Evidence-Based Practice Center in Durham, NC, found that spinal manipulation resulted in almost immediate improvement for those headaches that originate in the neck, and had significantly fewer side effects and longer-lasting relief of tension-type headache than a commonly prescribed medication.
Sciatica describes persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back, down through the buttock, and into the lower leg. The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in the body, running from the lower back through the buttocks and down the back of each leg. It controls the muscles of the lower leg and provides sensation to the thighs, legs, and the soles of the feet.
Sciatica occurs most frequently in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. Most often, it tends to develop as a result of general wear and tear on the structures of the lower spine, not as a result of injury. The most common symptom associated with sciatica is pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve, from the lower back and down one leg; however, symptoms can vary widely depending on where the sciatic nerve is affected. Some may experience a mild tingling, a dull ache, or even a burning sensation, typically on one side of the body.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction (SJD) is a broad term often applied to pain in the sacroiliac joint region—the largest joints at the base of the spine. SJD can be painful and debilitating, but it is rarely life-threatening. SJD rarely requires invasive types of treatment such as surgery. SJD symptoms include low-back pain, typically at the belt line, and pain radiating into the buttock or thigh. Most often, SJD is caused by trauma. For example, rotation of the joint when lifting or participating in some vigorous activity may cause tears in small ligaments surrounding the joint, resulting in pain and dysfunction.
Plantar fasciitis, also called “heel pain syndrome,” affects approximately 2 million people in the United States each year. Plantar fasciitis can come on gradually as the result of a degenerative process or sudden foot trauma. It can appear in one heel or both. It is generally worse on taking the first few steps in the morning or after prolonged sitting or non-weight-bearing movement. Symptoms can be aggravated by activity and prolonged weight bearing. Obesity, too, is hard on the feet—it can cause plantar pain or it can make that pain worse.
Does it hurt when you chew, open wide to yawn or use your jaws? Do you have pain or soreness in front of the ear, in the jaw muscle, cheek, the teeth or the temples? Do you have pain or soreness in your teeth? Do your jaws make noises loud enough to bother you or others? Do you find it difficult to open your mouth wide? Does your jaw ever get stuck/locked as you open it? If you answered “yes” to some of these questions, you may have a temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMD. TMD is a group of conditions, often painful, that affect the jaw joint. Signs may include: Radiating pain in the face, neck, or shoulders, Limited movement or locking of the jaw, Painful clicking or grating when opening or closing the mouth, A significant change in the way the upper and lower teeth fit together, or Headaches, earaches, dizziness, hearing problems and difficulty swallowing. For most people, pain or discomfort in the jaw muscles or joints is temporary, often occurs in cycles, and resolves once you stop moving the area. Some people with TMD pain, however, can develop chronic symptoms.
CTS is a problem of the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand. CTS occurs when the median nerve gets compressed in the carpal tunnel—a narrow tunnel at the wrist—made up of bones and soft tissues, such as nerves, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. The compression may result in pain, weakness, and/or numbness in the hand and wrist, which radiates up into the forearm. CTS is the most common of the “entrapment neuropathies”—compression or trauma of the body’s nerves in the hands or feet.
Hip pain is the general term for pain felt in or around the hip joint. It isn’t always felt in the hip itself, but may instead be felt in the groin or thigh. The most common cause of long-term hip pain is arthritis, or joint swelling. Arthritis can cause pain, stiff and tender joints, and difficulty walking.
Ankle pain is often due to an ankle sprain but can also be caused by ankle instability, arthritis, gout, tendonitis, fracture, nerve compression (tarsal tunnel syndrome), infection and poor structural alignment of the leg or foot. Ankle pain can be associated with swelling, stiffness, redness, and warmth in the involved area. The pain is often described as an intense dull ache that occurs upon weight bearing and ankle motion.
Knee pain is incredibly common. In the United States, it’s responsible for about one third of all doctor’s visits for muscle and bone pain. Knee pain is a special problem for athletes — over half of all athletes endure it every year.
Some of the most common reasons for knee pain are sprained ligaments, meniscus (cartilage) tears, tendonitis, and runner’s knee. But the knee is a complex joint, and there’s plenty more that can go wrong.
Shoulder pain includes any pain that arises in or around your shoulder. Shoulder pain may originate in the joint itself, or from any of the many surrounding muscles, ligaments or tendons. Shoulder pain usually worsens with activities or movement of your arm or shoulder.
Most elbow pain results from overuse injuries. Many sports, hobbies and jobs require repetitive hand, wrist or arm movements. Elbow pain may occasionally be due to arthritis, but in general, your elbow joint is much less prone to wear-and-tear damage than are many other joints.
Wrist pain is a common complaint. It’s often caused by sprains or fractures from sudden injuries. But wrist pain can also result from long-term problems, such as repetitive stress, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Because so many factors can lead to wrist pain, diagnosing the exact cause can sometimes be difficult. But an accurate diagnosis is essential for proper treatment.
Iliotibial Band Syndrome (ITBS) is one of the most common overuse injuries among runners. It occurs when the iliotibial band, the ligament that runs down the outside of the thigh from the hip to the shin, is tight or inflamed. The IT band attaches to the knee and helps stabilize and move the joint. When the IT band isn’t working properly, movement of the knee becomes painful.