When neck pain strikes, it’s often assumed the cause is also in the neck. It’s only logical, right? In many cases, focusing on the neck for diagnosis and treatment may lead to a satisfying result but not all the time. For some patients, neck pain may be related to a condition elsewhere in the body, which would need to be addressed for the patient to find lasting relief.
One such area of the body is the shoulder. Past research has shown the conditions can co-occur, and there are also cases in which managing a cervical condition led to improved pain and function in the shoulder joint. A review of findings from four published studies found the opposite can also be the case. The review revealed that patients with chronic neck pain experienced improvements in pain and disability following a three-week course of treatment featuring scapular stabilization exercises.
A review of findings from 14 studies showed that manipulative therapy applied to the mid-back resulted in improvements in cervical pain and disability among patients with chronic neck pain.
While it makes sense that areas adjacent to the neck like the shoulder and mid-back can contribute to neck pain, the research suggests that even issues farther down in the body can play a role. A 2019 study revealed that individuals with chronic neck pain exhibited differences in walking symmetry, a known risk factor for problems in the knee and hip joints. Another 2019 study showed that patients with chronic neck pain walked with a stiffer spine. It has also been demonstrated that leg length inequality can lead to dysfunction in the knees, hips, and lower back.
The neck plays an important role in keeping the head upright and keeping the eyes level. If the neck needs to overcompensate for deficiencies in movement in the back or lower extremities, it can lead to a painful cervical condition.
Doctors of chiropractic are trained to evaluate the whole patient and identify factors contributing to the patient’s chief complaint. In many cases, a combination of manual therapies (manipulation/mobilization), specific exercises, ergonomic modifications, nutritional counseling, and physical therapy modalities can result in a satisfying treatment outcome.