Can an Osteopath Fix a Stiff Neck?

Having a stiff neck can make it difficult to turn your head in any direction. It can be an uncomfortable and painful experience that can be caused by various reasons. It is a common problem that can also be treated in a variety of ways. Osteopathy is one such remedy that offers several helpful treatment options.

What is an Osteopath

An osteopath is a medical professional trained in osteopathic techniques to detect, diagnose, treat and prevent health conditions using physical manipulation. These techniques involve the moving, stretching and massaging of the patient’s muscles and joints.

Osteopathy relies on the belief or principle that a person’s health and well-being are strongly dependent on the ability of the muscles, ligaments, connective tissues, and bones to function smoothly. Physical manipulation is at the core of osteopathy and does not depend on the use of medication or surgery. However, an osteopath may send a patient for other testing and scans to confirm the diagnosis.

Osteopathic treatments are aimed at restoring balance by improving mobility to joints, boosting blood and nerve supply to tissues, easing muscle tension, and promoting the body’s own healing mechanisms. They can be applied to a wide range of medical conditions and a diverse array of patients.

What is a stiff neck?

A stiff neck is a medical condition that causes a sufferer to experience feelings of stiffness or immobility in the neck area. The patient may feel neck pain, and soreness, and have difficulty trying to move their neck, especially when wanting to turn the direction of their head.

Due to this discomfort and pain, they may be forced to turn their whole body in the direction they want to face. The pain and soreness may also radiate away from the neck, causing the person to also suffer headaches, shoulder pain, and arm aches.

A stiff neck can have many causes including:

  • Sleeping in an awkward position
  • Poor posture when reading or watching television
  • Using your computer monitor at the wrong height
  • Turning your neck harshly when exercising
  • Traumatic fall or injury to the neck area such as with whiplash
  • Anxiety and stress

Note that some injuries to the neck area may not result in immediate symptoms appearing. The stiff neck may occur later in the day. Anxiety and stress can also lead to neck injury as they can cause tension in neck muscles that eventually become strained.

Proper management and care of the stiff neck symptoms can allow for the condition to recover naturally within less than a week for most people. There are many ways to manage the condition while at home, hence the reason most people do not bother seeing their doctor when it happens and will try to carry on with their normal routines.

However, if home remedies do not seem to be helping and symptoms persist beyond just a few days, or if the injury that is causing the pain may have been traumatic, then you should visit your GP.

If after the exam and prescribing remedies that do not seem to be working, your doctor may refer you to an osteopath. This can apply to both acute and chronic cases. Here are some of the treatment options an osteopath may use in treating this condition.

Osteopathy for stiff neck

Manual therapy is the main treatment option applied to stiff necks by osteopaths. This will however depend on what the underlying cause of the condition is. This therapy is suitable for patients of all ages and involves gentle but precise force being applied to the affected joints and muscles.

This treatment is commonly used where muscle strain is identified as a likely cause of the condition. The osteopath will use physical manipulation to help loosen the affected muscles. Through a local massage, the blood supply can be boosted to the area to help nourish the tissues and promote the drainage of waste products like lactic acid.

Physical manipulation can also be used where the stiff neck was caused by a whiplash injury. Whiplash occurs when there is a sudden jolt in movement that causes the tissues around the neck to extend beyond their normal limits. Local massage can help to promote recovery to the area of trauma and relax the muscles, tendons, and ligaments.

Injury or degeneration of the vertebrae can also affect the curvature of the spine and lead to neck pain and a stiff neck. This is a condition that can also benefit from osteopathic treatments like physical manipulation that can help to realign the vertebrae and stabilise the spine. This can help to relieve pain and improve posture and mobility.

Cracking of the neck may also be applied. This manipulation can help to release carbon dioxide gas present in the synovial fluid that surrounds the joint. The release of the gas is what creates the popping sound. Once done, this manipulation can help to improve mobility and reduce joint stiffness.

Having pinched nerves in the neck may also lead to a stiff neck. Manual therapy can also be used to relax the tight muscles around the nerve and enable normal movement and feeling to be restored.

How long does treatment take?

The number of sessions you will undergo with your osteopath will mainly be guided by how severe the condition is and how well your body responds to the treatment. Some people can gain considerable relief after just a few sessions, while others can take weeks. Treatment plans are usually tailored to the specific patient and their physical condition.