How should I sleep with arthritis in my neck?
What does arthritis in neck feel like?
Are you experiencing stiffness, aches, and pains in your neck? And are you wondering if it could be neck arthritis?
If so, you probably would want to know what you can do about it?
- Is there a neck arthritis specialist near me?
- What treatment is there for neck arthritis?
- What exercises can I do for neck arthritis?
- What can I do to prevent neck arthritis?
... But what if I told you that it is possible that the symptoms you're experiencing have NOTHING TO DO with neck arthritis?
In your neck, there are three types of nerves:
- Sensory nerves, which allow you to feel things such as pain.
- Motor nerves, which allow you to move muscles.
- Autonomic nerves (specifically sympathetic nerves), which control body functions that you don't have to think about such as blood flow.
Here's the thing: the majority of nerves in your neck are NOT sensory. In other words, people walk around with neck arthritis all day - EVERYDAY - and don't feel like anything is wrong!
Part of the reason is that your brain has a built-in modulation centre called the periaqueductual grey (PAG) matter that turns-off your ability to consciously feel and hear things. Let's say that you live along a busy street where you can hear the traffic when you're trying to sleep. After a while, your brain gets accustomed to the noise and is able to filter it out so that you no longer hear it.
The same is often true with neck arthritis and the pain that people don't actually experience.
Now, I am not dismissing the significance of neck arthritis, because IT DOES MATTER! And if is a sign of some type of degenerative, dysfunctional process occurring in your body ... but NOT just a sign that you are getting older.
The point I am ultimately making is that if you experience neck pain, stiffness, discomfort or other neurological or muscular symptoms that IT MIGHT NOT BE THE ARTHRITIS AT ALL, BUT SOMETHING ELSE THAT IS ACTUALLY CAUSING THE PROBLEMS.
How should I sleep with neck arthritis?
The short answer is, "However is most comfortable for you." Now, let's look at a few principles that may help to guide you.
First, sleeping position. What is the best sleeping position for you?
In a perfect world, did you know that the BEST sleeping position is actually straight on your stomach? HOWEVER, the second you have any type of mechanical problem with your neck - including neck arthritis - this is actually the WORST POSITION BY FAR and should be 100% avoided.
The reason is that the bones in your neck - particularly the top two, the C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis) - physically tether onto your spinal cord and brainstem. If the normal alignment or integrity of these bones are compromised by even a couple of millimetres, then these bones can produce a pathological force that pulls on your spinal cord, interfering with the normal nerve and blood transmission. Not a good thing!
So as a matter of principle, the best position to sleep is either a) flat on your back or b) on your side. But one very important caveat if you sleep on your side: do NOT curl into the foetal position.
Although it is comfortable, you will likely end up sticking your head too far forward, which puts more stress and strain on the muscles in your neck, If you sleep on your side you must make sure that you keep your head aligned over your shoulder and the rest of your body.
Second, pillow. What is the best pillow for you?
In principle again, NO PILLOW is best. Even if you lie on your side. A tiny pad to soften the pressure against your head would help, but a mattress is more than capable of doing that,
You may have heard about the Paleo Diet? In brief, if we eat food that existed 2000 years ago, it is healthier for us. So let me ask you consider, "How did Paleo people sleep?" On a fluffy pillow? Or on a rock with some sheepskin under their heads? I would bet the latter.
Now, would I recommend that you try this immediately? Not if you have neck arthritis!
I weaned myself off of a pillow entirely ... but it took me 6 months our get there because the act of lying on my back stretched the muscles in my spine to the point of discomfort. It took 6 months before I could like flat all the way through the night without my back waking me up.
On the other side of that transition period, I quite like it! However, it is a process to get there.
And the more degenerative neck arthritis that you may have the more resistance there will be! Therefore, I must sooner recommend that you apply the following principles, but then find something that works for you.
- When it comes to pillows with neck arthritis, the thinner the better.
- The posture-paedic pillows with the bump to support your lower neck might not be good for you, especially if you have neck arthritis because it might actually push against things and stir you up.
- Make sure that your pillow also supports the top of your shoulders so that it doesn't push your head forward in your sleep (which closes off your airway ... yes, that is the irony with sleep apnoea that I know: it is that the more pillows that are under your head, the worse it actually gets!
- Pillows that are branded as "chiropractic approved" or "physiotherapist approved" ... remember that these are business/commercial arrangements, and not necessarily the right pillows for you.
Consider what I've said thus far: I'm a chiropractic doctor, who works exclusively with cranial and neck conditions, and I am saying (in a perfect world) NO pillow! It is honest, and there's no money in that for me.
How do you treat arthritis in the neck?
Remember what I said earlier in this article: that the neck pain or discomfort or other muscle or nerve issues you feel may not actually be neck arthritis at all.
Let me explain why. First, let's look at neck arthritis: specifically what is known as osteoarthritis, aka spondylosis when it occurs in the spine. Arthritis is not just something that just happens from getting older.
Consider a classic car from the 1960s. If the car has been well taken care of (or restored), it will be in pristine condition. However, if the car has been well-used and poorly-maintained - may be left out to rust in the rain, etc - then it will exhibit some pretty significant signs of wear and tear.
That is what neck arthritis is. It is a degenerative, progressive process that occurs as the result of years or decades of physical wear-and-tear. Neck arthritis is your body's intelligence adaptation to chronic stress where it produces additional bone to support parts of your spine that are under abnormal stress. The problem is that if this stress persists long enough, it can cause the bones to rust or erode.
When this happens, yes it increases the chances that you will experience neck pain, stiffness and other problems. And yes, it is also more common when you get older. But NOT simply because you are getting older. It is because of the PROBLEM that you actually have has been there longer, and it was never addressed.
So what type of problem could that be?
At last, here is the point that I am raising. It is that neck arthritis may only be a symptom - the effect - due to something else. And so instead of treating the symptom, which you may not be able to do, would it not be better to address the underlying cause? That way, even if the neck arthritis doesn't go away, it may still be possible to experience relief and a better quality of life.
Isn't that what we all want?
So what is the condition that I am alluding to that may actually be responsible for the symptoms that you believed were due to "neck arthritis?" I mentioned it briefly earlier in this article: i.e., a condition that has injured the alignment of movement of at least one of the bones in your neck.
First, consider all the times in life that you may have injured your neck - even a little bit - but where you didn't experience any longterm pain?
- Jumping off swings, slides, monkey bars, see-saws, etc when you were a kid
- Crashing off bikes, skateboards, surfboards, snowboards as a teen
- Getting smacked around playing sports (... yes, even the non-contact ones like swimming, dancing or horse riding where you can fall on your neck or shoulder
- Or any of the boring adult injuries like tripping on the kerb, smacking your head on the car boot, kitchen cupboard, overhead beam, etc.
Remember that only 1/3 of the types of nerve in your neck actually produce any pain. is it possible that you could have suffered an injury that created a problem with the other 2 types of nerves? You have NOT been able to feel it, and as a result, it has been allowed to grow beneath the surface ever since?
What we are talking about is a misalignment of the bones of your spine. Not a fracture and not a dislocation, which are upwards of 10mm displacements, but a displacement of even 1-5mm that can cause progressive, accumulative damage over a long period of time.
Such misalignments (and their resulting loss of motion) in the neck have been implicated the process of degenerative arthritis and also a myriad of problems in the brain including the sensation of pain, muscle coordination, and the ability for the master command centres of the brain to work properly, full stop!
In other words, when we talk about a neck problem - including neck arthritis - we aren't talking about a pain or muscle problem. We are talking bout a brain problem that can become both a health and function problem.
That is the true nature of what we are talking about.
It is one of those things where you may be now wondering, "Why didn't anyone tell me this before? I might have been able to prevent this from happening?"
Well, this is not a new message. It is actually a message that chiropractors have been sharing with the world for over 100 years now! Alas, chiropractic has a general negative stigma (even today by certain political groups) that permeates into the cultural message.
So instead of people hearing the truth - That taking care of your spine is important for your health - people get a watered-down message that "Chiropractic is for when you have a bad back or a bad neck."
That is fitting it into a reactionary model: i.e., don't do anything until after you already have a problem instead of prevention.
Plus the fact that many people are scared of the concept of someone cracking or twisting their neck, usually because of some concern that things will go wrong and that they will become paralysed. Well, not really. But this concern actually raises a very important point.
If you believe that something done WRONG to your neck could cause all kinds of health problems, do you also believe it is possible that something did RIGHT to help your neck could cause all kinds of health improvements?
What are the risks of chiropractic treatment?
In the same breath, you may not know that NOT ALL TYPES OF CHIROPRACTORS are the same. In Australia, it is a bit of a tricky situation because there is currently no ability for health practitioners to advertise genuine specialisations (e.,g neck specialists Brisbane, or chiropractic neurologists), etc.
So what we have to do is share the message - one person at a time - which is actually very inefficient.
Now, I can't speak on behalf of all chiropractors or physiotherapists or other "neck arthritis specialists in Brisbane." I can only share the message of who we are and what we stand for.
Our practice located in North Lakes is dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives. Our particular focus is on what is known as Blair upper cervical healthcare, which is a special division of chiropractic developed in the USA.
At present, there are still only around a dozen upper cervical chiropractors in all Australia. Not only are we the only atlas chiropractor North Lakes, but we are still the first and only Blair atlas chiropractor Brisbane.
The concept is simple. The alignment of the bones in your neck - particularly the top two, the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - affect the function of your brainstem, which is the master control centre of your body. If your brain is not able to receive or transmit messages clearly to the rest of your body, it's not going to function optimally.
But if your brain can communicate clearly with your body, you will have a much better chance to heal and enjoy the quality of life that you desire.
What we do are identify misaligns with the lints in your neck that are the result of physical injuries (usually old injuries that may also have started the whole neck arthritis process). The way we do this is by looking specifically at three things that hallmark the presence of vertebral misalignment in your neck:
- Muscle tone changes that result in abnormal posture (because posture isn't just laziness!)
- Sympathetic nerve changes, which is a way of measuring your overall body health and not merely the presence or absence of symptoms
- Detailed, 3D x-rays. Because your body is built different from every other human being, we need to consider your unique condition from specialised angles that actually show what is going on ... and not just "you have neck arthritis."
When we are able to identify the nature of your condition, then we are able to devise a plan and approach to help restore your alignment and motion, and thereby working to achieve the best possible outcome in your daily life functions. So even though we may not be able to take away your neck arthritis, we may still be able to help you in the ways that actually matter.
The way that we provide care is also different from what many people think of as a general chiropractor or spinal manipulation. Foremost, there is no neck twisting or cracking or manipulation (which is probably not a good idea if you have major neck arthritis anyway).
When we know the exact direction and degree of your misalignment, we only need to use the amount of force that you would use to feel your pulse to make the correction.
The result is a procedure that is designed especially for you in order to minimise risk and maximise positive outcomes. A 2011 study on upper cervical care revealed significant improvements among a number of health conditions (neck pain, low back pain, dizziness, headaches) with an overall 91% satisfaction score.
Approximately 30% of people did experience some type of side effect that was usually short-lived (48 hours): sore muscles, lightheadedness, headache or fatigue with approximately 5% experiencing a more profound symptomatic reaction, but without one documented case of severe, permanent adverse event.
So these are what the numbers say. ... But is this right for you?
In this article, I've hopefully outlined a few things for you about neck arthritis ... and that what you experience may not actually be neck arthritis, but may actually be an unresolved issue with the alignment of your neck.
So if you've found that this article resonated with you - that is, it feels right but also makes logical sense! - then we'd like to extend an offer for you. We would like to have a chat with you to find out if there is something more that we can do for you.
At Atlas Health, we offer a complimentary over-the-phone consultation where we are happy to have a chat and answer any individual questions you might have so that you can decide if care may be right for you.
To accept this offer, all you have to do is call us at the office at 07 3188 9329, or simply send us an email through the "Contact Us: link on this page, and we will return your call./email as soon as possible.
Our office is located in North Lakes, providing specific upper cervical chiropractic care for the greater Brisbane communities. For the local communities of North Lakes, Narangba, Burpengary, North Harbour, Mango Hill, Dakabin, Aspley, Sandgate, Brighton and Redcliffe we are your local atlas chiropractor, here to help you reach your health goals.
In case you may be wondering, it is common for many of our clients to travel 60-90 minutes in one direction. We regularly work with clients who travel from south Brisbane, West End, Toowong, Indooroopilly, Capalaba, Cleveland, Beenlaigh and even Ipswich.
We do wish that there were more chiropractic doctors providing this work that we could refer you to them. Alas, that is a project we are working on to resolve.
So please, we look forward to hearing from you and helping in any way that we can. Call us at 07 3188 9339 or send us an email to email@example.com.
Atlas Health Australia - A passion and purpose for helping live well.
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