A cervical subluxation is a partial dislocation or misalignment of a joint. The cervical area of the spinal column is defined as the 7 stacked vertebrae that support the neck. Although this area of the spine is strong and flexible to provide a wide range of movement, it can be subject to injury. The bones that are normally in contact can go out of alignment, which can lead to poor function and problems with discomfort.
Subluxations of the cervical area of the spine can be painful and can make daily actions more difficult or even impossible. This problem occurs when one or more of the vertebrae in the upper spine are out of their normal position. Fortunately, a number of treatments are available for cervical spine discomfort that can relieve pain, improve flexibility and restore normal range of motion to the neck.
What is cervical subluxation?
Cervical subluxation involves the upper portion of the spine that supports the neck and allows free movement in many directions. Subluxation can cause neck pain, discomfort in the upper back and even difficulty with arm and shoulder movement. Nerve roots connect to the spinal column that can become compressed as a result of the misalignment and can cause numbness, tingling and weakness in the neck muscles.
Anatomy of the cervical spine
The cervical spine refers to the top 7 vertebrae that make up the neck and allow flexible motion of the head. These bones are stacked together with gel-like discs in between the bones, which help to cushion the bones during movement and act as shock absorbers during motion. A number of ligaments and nerves connect to the cervical spinal area.
Causes and risk factors for cervical subluxation
Causes of cervical subluxation run from external forces, such as accidents, to internal forces, such as degeneration from aging. Risks factors include genetic vulnerability, aging, working at repetitive tasks that involve movement of the neck and engaging in athletic activities that cause injuries to the neck and upper back. Individuals with medical conditions that involve bone degeneration are also at risk.
Traumatic causes (major trauma, spinal cord injury)
Traumatic injury is one of the main causes of cervical subluxation. Accidents such as auto crashes, falls and sports impacts can lead to damage to the vertebrae and structures within the upper spine. Once an injury has occurred, structures can experience long-term inflammation that can ultimately lead to degeneration of bones and tissues within and surrounding the vertebrae. Timely treatment can help to reduce the risk of chronic inflammation and injury to tissues
Non-traumatic causes (micro-trauma, emotional stress)
Micro-trauma from repetitive actions and poor posture can lead to cervical subluxation of the upper spine. Poor posture can put constant pressure on the structures in the upper spine and neck, leading to inflammation and nerve compression. Even the effects of chronic emotional stress can have a negative effect on the cervical spine, from constant tension that affects normal function.
Pre-existing conditions (patients with rheumatoid arthritis)
Individuals with medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis can develop subluxation of the cervical spine as vertebrae become damaged from inflammation and resulting deterioration of bone. Spinal fractures, infections of the spinal bones and cancerous tumors of the bone can also cause cervical subluxation.
Symptoms of cervical subluxation
The symptoms of a cervical subluxation problem can vary from person to person. You may have chronic discomfort or just intermittent pain during sustained movement. Discomfort can be minor or severe, depending on the extent of the subluxation. Symptoms may respond to at-home treatment, or you may need more extensive care for the condition.
Neck pain and stiffness
You may have impaired movement of the neck either when turning the head to the side or trying to look up or down.
Limited range of motion in the neck
You may have pain or stiffness when moving the head from side to side or when looking up or down. The range of motion may be severely limited. You may have spasms of the neck muscles. Tingling or numbness can radiate into the shoulder or arm and hand.
Headaches and migraines associated with cervical subluxation
A subluxation in the cervical area of the spine can cause frequent headaches or more intense migraine headaches due to the misalignment of vertebrae that cause compression of nerve roots that are connected to this area of the spine.
Diagnosis and assessment of cervical subluxation
Your health provider may use a variety of tests to determine the type and severity of damage to the cervical vertebrae. Your symptoms will also provide information the doctor will use to determine appropriate treatment.
Physical examination techniques to assess range of motion
Your health professional will conduct a physical examination of neck and upper spine, taking note of how far you can turn your head to either side, as well as up and down, and how much discomfort you have in performing these actions.
Imaging studies to evaluate the integrity of the cervical spine
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), CT scans and x-rays are routinely used to detect subluxations of the spine.
Importance of maintaining normal range of motion in the neck
The ability to move the head comfortably is critical to many actions and activities in everyday life. Your ability to work at a computer, follow conversations and engage in speaking to other people can be negatively affected if you do not have normal function in the upper cervical region of the spine.
Treatment Options for cervical subluxation
Treatments for cervical subluxation range from the conservative to the intensive. In addition, depending on the severity of the subluxation, you may be able to choose between traditional and alternative methods for your treatment.
Chiropractors routinely use manual adjustment of the spine to realign vertebrae, which helps to relieve pressure on muscles, tendons and nerves in the neck and upper back.
Soft Tissue Therapies
Chiropractors also use a variety of soft tissue manipulation techniques to relieve compression of nerves and muscles that can contribute to pain and poor function in the neck. Massage can also be use to help dysfunction in the cervical area of the spine.
Corrective exercise is often a recommended therapy for cervical subluxation because these actions improve strength and flexibility in the supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments that stabilize the upper spine.
Arranging your workspace and home environment to reduce the strain put on the cervical spine can help to improve symptoms of subluxation. Positioning work chairs, placing computer monitors at comfortable angles, keeping items within easy reach, providing lumbar support and taking frequent breaks from work positions can help to prevent further damage to vertebrae.
Effects of Uncorrected Cervical Subluxation
Although a cervical subluxation may only cause minor discomfort in the early stages, the misalignment of the vertebrae of the spine can lead to worsening problems with inflammation and degeneration of bone. Appropriate treatment can serve to halt the progress of this deterioration, to maintain normal bone health.
Ongoing pain and loss of mobility
Untreated cervical subluxation can mean increasing discomfort doing daily tasks and progressive loss of full mobility of the head and neck.
Progression of joint degeneration
Unfortunately, the failure to treat an early-stage cervical subluxation can lead to increasing problems with inflammation and joint deterioration.
Neurological effects like numbness/tingling
Cervical subluxation can cause compression of nerve roots connected to the upper spine, which result in feelings of tingling or numbness in the arms or even down into the hands and fingers. Resolving this compression can relieve these uncomfortable nerve symptoms.
Increased risk of developing related conditions later on (arthritis, disc herniations, etc)
Cervical subluxation can lead to chronic inflammation in the bones and connective tissue of the upper spinal column, which can set the stage for the development of chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis, spinal disc herniation and pain and increasing nerve discomfort.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes a cervical subluxation?
A cervical subluxation can be a result of impact, repetitive motion, degenerative medical condition or poor posture. The continuous misalignment of the spinal vertebrae leads to discomfort and poor mobility of the head and neck.
How do you fix a cervical subluxation?
An accurate diagnosis of the problem is important to providing effective treatment. Simple measures such as rest and posture correction can provide relief for minor subluxations. Bracing, icing and heat therapy can be helpful. Severe misalignment may require more aggressive therapies such as physical therapy, spinal decompression, laser therapy or surgical repair.
How long does it take for cervical subluxation to heal?
Healing time for a cervical subluxation depends on the severity of the misalignment. Minor alignment problems can improve within a matter of weeks. More severe misalignment may require several months of intensive treatment to provide full relief from discomfort. In some cases, treatment may require progressively more aggressive methods to resolve the problem.
Can cervical subluxation be fixed?
Yes, cervical subluxation can be fixed with proper treatment. A number of methods are available, from conservative therapies, like over-the-counter medications and bracing, to more rigorous treatment such as injection of corticosteroid drugs and surgical repair of structures. Your doctor will determine the best treatment for your needs based on the severity of the problem.
What is the best treatment for subluxation?
Rest can help to improve cervical subluxation discomfort. Ice packs and heat therapy are used to reduce inflammation of tissues and encourage healing. Spinal realignment from a chiropractor can reduce stress on spinal vertebrae and improve posture. Strengthening exercises provide better support for cervical vertebrae. Massage and acupuncture help to manage pain. For some individuals, bracing may be necessary.
How do you sleep with cervical subluxation?
Awkward sleep positions can worsen a cervical subluxation, you may wake up with pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders or upper back. Using one or more pillows to support the head and neck during sleep can help to relieve stress on the upper spinal structures. Changing your mattress to one that provides better support for the spine can also help relieve discomfort.
What is the most common cause of subluxation?
Poor posture is the most common cause of subluxation because it puts continuous pressure on bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves. Subluxation is particularly common in workers who sit at computers for long periods of time, holding the head in the same position to look at monitors. Bad posture in both sitting and standing can lead to cervical problems. Resolving posture problems can help to relieve pain and poor function.
What diseases cause cervical instability?
Osteoarthritis, a progressive condition that causes inflammation and deterioration of the bones is a common medical condition that affects older people. It can affect the cervical area of the spine. Rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to inflammation and deterioration of structures in the neck. Degenerative disc disease can affect the area. Stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal, can cause problems in the cervical spine. Spondylosis of the cervical spine is a degenerative condition associated with aging that causes damage to bones and other structures in the cervical area.
What type of doctor treats subluxation?
Subluxations of the spine can be treated by an orthopedic specialist. Chiropractors routinely treat subluxations of the spine.
c5-c6 subluxation symptoms
The C5 and C6 vertebrae are located in the lower portion of the cervical spine. This area does most of the work of bearing the weight of the head and neck. Trauma, poor posture, herniation of the discs and degenerative problems are likely to affect this area of the spinal column. Pain may be dull and constant or sharp and intermittent. Discomfort sometimes radiates into the arm. Nerve compression can cause numbness in the hand and fingers. Muscle strength on the affected side may be impaired.
Subluxation neck symptoms
You can suspect a cervical subluxation is you have symptoms such as chronic neck pain that is worsened when you are in certain positions or when in movement. You may have difficulty turning your head from side to side or up and down. There may be numbness and tingling of the arms or hands. Muscles in the neck and shoulders may feel tight and may be tender to the touch. You may have frequent headaches.