Chronic neck pain can be explained by starting with scar tissue, or what we call Fibrosis. Fibrosis is scar tissue that develops inside of your body, on muscles, tendons or inside of a joint capsule. Fibrosis always occurs at the end stage of inflammation, or swelling. While scar tissue on the outside of the body doesn’t cause any problems, on the inside, like in your neck, it can lead to chronic pain and even future re-injury.
What’s the problem with scar tissue (fibrosis)?
Fibrosis works like glue. The problem with fibrosis is that it isn’t all neat and perfect, like a band-aid. It’s a big mess. The scar tissue grabs the connective tissue and the surrounding muscles, wrapping it all up together into a three dimensional blob. It happens because your body is trying to protect the injury and anchor it somehow, so you don’t injure it again. That’s a good thing, of course, but once you heal not all of it goes away. The problem is some of the fibrosis sticks around. (Pun intended.)
The end stage of inflammation is fibrosis.
Let’s say you hurt your neck from sleeping incorrectly, and your muscle spasms when you wake up in the morning. Next you get the inflammation. You take some ibuprofen, maybe apply some ice and heat and you’re feeling a little better. You’ve even regained some movement, but you still can’t look over your shoulder. When you try, you feel a dull ache. You go to sleep and it all starts again the next day, because you’re sleeping on your stomach or with too many pillows, repeating the injury.
Fibrosis interferes with movement.
Remember that big three dimensional fibrosis at the injured muscle? You can’t move your neck because it’s getting in the way of the normal gliding that happens between neighboring tissues. Look at the graphic below and see how fibrosis sticks to the muscle. Imagine that muscle trying to glide across a tendon and getting stuck. You’ve got a fibrosis speed bump.
Fibrosis makes you overly-cautious.
That’s because inside of the fibrosis are nociceptors: pain receptors that are only triggered when you reach a certain threshold of pain. The fibrosis puts down lots of nociceptors, so your subconscious goes into hyper-drive trying to protect the area. Without even thinking about it, you’ll turn your whole body to look at something. You won’t sleep in the proper position, but will sleep with your neck kinked to protect you from the pain or discomfort of proper posture. You become super sensitive and over-protective of the area.
Now you’re on the chronic pain pathway.
You can’t move your neck because you have a fibrosis anchoring the tissues together, shortening the muscle and limiting its function. You won’t move your neck because an abundance of pain receptors in the fibrosis are telling you not to. This is why chronic pain is such a nightmare for doctors to treat.
Treatment for fibrosis
Fibrosis doesn’t go away, but it’s malleable. You can beat it up and move it around. Athletes are expert at this. Even with a knee injury a football player will get on a stationary bike immediately. A runner will get walking. The trick is to push through the pain and get moving! Here are some treatments:
- [popup url=http://www.acatoday.org height=”500″width=”460”]Chiropractor[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.apta.org/ height=”500″width=”460”]Physical Therapy[/popup]
- Foam roller massage
- [popup url=http://www.activerelease.com/ height=”500″width=”460”]ART, Active Release Technique[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.thesma.org height=”500″width=”460”]Massage therapists[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.acupunctureresearch.org height=”500″width=”460”]Acupuncture[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.rolf.org/about/massage height=”500″width=”460”] ROLFING (structural integration)[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.iayt.org/ height=”500″width=”460”] Yoga[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.osteopathic.org/osteopathic-health/treatment/Pages/default.aspx height=”500″width=”460”] Osteopathic Manipulation[/popup]
- [popup url=http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/graston-technique-instrument-assisted-soft-tissue-manual-therapy-back-pain height=”500″width=”460”] The Graston Technique (Gua Sha)[/popup]