Neck injuries have recently been in the news when Tiger Woods withdrew for a golf tournament with neck pain and tingling down his right arm. He thought he may have a bulged disc in his neck but an MRI proved that his neck pain was a result of an inflamed joint in his neck. The media is speculating his neck injury may be associated to the November auto accident at his home.

The neck is made up of seven vertebras that are separated by discs and held together by ligaments. Muscles allow for movement of the head and neck.

What makes the neck so vulnerable to injuries is how the neck works. It holds your head, weighs 10-14 pounds. The neck is also highly flexible so you can look up, down and rotate your head.

Collision-type sports like football and hockey have substantial neck injuries. Contact sports like basketball, field hockey, soccer also have a number of neck injuries. Sports where you can fall such as skiing, biking and gymnastics also produce injuries to the neck that are similar to the injuries you would experience in a whiplash-type injury for an auto accident.

The symptoms from a neck injury can be limited to just pain and discomfort in the neck and upper back or more significant symptoms such as pain radiating down your arm. Football players may feel pain shooting down both arms at once which is known as a stinger. Over half of the catastrophic sports injuries occur to the neck and these can result in a fracture to a vertebra and paralysis as a result of an injury to the spinal cord.

Prevention I believe is the key to avoiding long-term damage to your neck. If your sport requires equipment such as a helmet, make sure it fits properly. The same thing applies to a bicycle; it needs to be fitted to you. You also need proper coaching to ensure your technique is correct. Do not lead with your head when making plays. Maintaining flexibility and strength also is essential.

Sometimes neck injuries are unavoidable. The athletic trainer for the Portland Pirates sent me a player who took a hard check into the boards that he was not expecting. He had suffered a whiplash-type injury to his neck. The trainer did an excellent job evaluating and doing initial treatment of ice, heat and massage. After his evaluation we took X-rays to rule out any serious injuries such as fractures. What we did find on the X-ray study was signs of arthritis in his neck. This is very unusual for a fit young man in his 20s. Obviously this is not his first injury of this nature to his neck. Fortunately he responded well to a series of spinal manipulation combined with the fine work of the trainer. This player was instructed on the seriousness of his injury and to avoid this arthritis from advancing he would have to maintain a program of neck strengthening and flexibility long after his hockey career is over.

A fit mother of three woke up with acute neck pain. She denied any recent neck injuries. Following my exam and X-ray study we asked her when she had a whiplash injury. This jogged her memory that she was involved in a car accident 20 years ago and had a sore neck following the accident. The X-rays showed she had a severe degenerating disc. She had no symptoms for years but her neck still suffered from the accident. Today she is managing her neck issues with exercise and stretching with periodic spinal manipulation.

Neck injuries, no matter how minor, should be evaluated by a health care provider to ensure you do not have issues years later.

 

Dr. Robert Lynch is a former president of the Maine Chiropractic Association and head of the Lynch Chiropractic Center in South Portland. “Staying in the Game” appears every other Thursday in the Press Herald.