What really happens when your neck ‘goes out’
We’ve all experienced the terrible discomfort when your neck suddenly feels like it’s locked up. What’s odd is it’s usually set off by a harmless, controlled movement like turning to shoulder check while driving. What can explain this extreme stiffness, reduced range of motion and pain? If you’ve always wondered what is happening in this situation we’re here to help!
Pain can be described as an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience associated with actual or potential tissue damage. It is very important to understand that pain does not necessarily mean that there is structural damage in your body. There are instances where there is indeed significant tissue pathology with zero pain (an asymptomatic rotator cuff tear) and conversely there are instances where there is extremely minor tissue damage and significant pain (a paper cut).
"...pain does not necessarily mean that there is structural damage in your body."
In the case of a neck that ‘goes out’ we can rule out pain that is occurring in the absence of peripheral tissue damage (phantom limb pain is one such example) and pinpoint the loc
al cause of nociception, or in other words the activation of free nerve endings that send signals to the brain to be interpreted and projected as pain. A herniated disc is a problem that affects one of the rubbery cushions (discs) in between the individual bones (vertebrae) that stack to compose the spine. A spinal disc has a soft, jelly-like center (nucleus) encased in a tougher, rubbery exterior (annulus). A herniated disc occurs when some of the nucleus pushes out through a tear in the annulus.
Most of us will have discs bulging that heal without us ever being aware of them because there are no nerves on the inside that can relay the message to the brain that damage is present. It’s an unavoidable and normal occurrence. But every so often the disc material works its way out, the nerves react and there’s a massive neuroimmune reaction. Inflammatory pain such as this is like salt in a wound and is impossible to ignore. Since pain is a call for change that is a protective mechanism it’s a very good thing because it’s protecting you from yourself. It can be so severe that you’re ready to go to the emergency room at the hospital and this uncertainty and fear can trigger neurogenic inflammation. Fortunately, this type of injury typically only lasts 3-7 days for this to settle down thanks to inflammatory mediators that come to the rescue and settle things down.
"Most of us will have discs bulging that heal without us ever being aware of them..."
It is important to get assessed and treated to address the cause to prevent a recurrence of the injury. Why did the neck compensate and end up with weakness in the cervical disc? The neck is one of the most adaptable regions of the body that can change its position to attenuate issues in the feet, knees, hips, pelvis, thorax and organs. There are some important red flags to be aware of so that you’re safe when treating the neck, and there are some details that are crucial to the success of manual therapy and movement interventions. Learn how to assess the entire body to find the cause of the injury and learn innovative, advanced treatment techniques to relieve pain and optimize spine function. If you want to learn the best treatment techniques and preventative programming for disc injuries join IMMT for a career defining learning experience.