Two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I woke up without the ability to rotate my neck to the left. I was experiencing sharp, left-sided neck pain with rotation and extension of the cervical spine. Personally, I had never felt this before, but I knew from clinical experience that I was suffering from acute cervical facet joint irritation. After some internal debate as to whether or not I should share my experience, I decided to write about it here. I can’t help but feel the irony of being a chiropractor with a neck that didn’t function properly.
Picture the spine as a long chain of joints that are protected by ligaments and muscles. If some of the links stiffen up due to injury or anatomical changes, other links are forced to move more in order to compensate. Eventually, this process leads to the overuse of the flexible joints and, in turn, causes pain through sprain.
Most of these types of injuries are caused by recurrent micro-trauma (many small repetitive injuries that accumulate until the ‘last straw’ is reached). This process triggers the nearby muscles to tighten in an attempt to protect the joint, causing further reduction in mobility, and an increase in pain.
How did my chiropractor help?
Each vertebrae of your spine has a pair of facet joints. Different sections of the spine (neck, mid-back and lower back) allow for specialized movements that depend on the orientation of the facet joints in the area. Specifically, cervical joints generally involve rotation along the transverse plane of the body. Chiropractors have extensive training in being able to assess and provide effective treatment to facet joints that are not moving properly. I knew I had to seek help from a chiropractor as soon as possible.
- Within the facet joint there is liquid called synovial fluid. This fluid contains many nutrients that help lubricate the joint, and reduce friction and wear of the underlying cartilage. By skillfully encouraging my facet joint to move, my colleagues were able to facilitate movement of synovial fluid, which ultimately replenished my joint with nutrients.
- The adjustment helped reset the stretch receptors found in the belly of the muscles that surround my cervical spine. This helped produce local changes in my nervous system to relax the nearby nerves and muscles.
- As previously mentioned, injury to a facet joint typically results from a sprain of the nearby ligaments caused by excessive movement of the compensating joint capsule. When my chiropractor treated the underlying issue (i.e. the fixated facet joint), mobility in my neck was largely restored and my level of pain was greatly reduced.
What did I learn?
Injuries that result from everyday living can sneak up on anyone, even a chiropractor. In my particular case, I benefited from having the knowledge and training to understand what the probable issue was and where to seek help. In the absence of such knowledge and training, one should consult a chiropractor or other health care professional trained to assess and treat conditions of the neuromusculoskeletal system.
by Dr. Brigitte MacPhail