Together with low back pain, the neck pain is one of the most common cases in my osteopathic practice.
The neck (or cervical spine) suffers from being malpositioned while working.
When we are sitting on a chair, we tend to change the natural physiological curve of the spine and the neck is influenced very badly by that.
A lot of people are quite static during their days: working at the computer for hours without breaks, leaning forward, focusing with their eyes, tightening their jaw or breathing too much in their upper chest (caused by stress). All these things can affect the cervical spine and start causing pain or discomfort.
But positions or stress are not the only reasons while your neck might hurt. Recent or old traumas (like a whiplash or a direct shock to the head) can affect the cervical spine.
The neck compensates for all these issues!
I have seen people having such compensations for years before they come to the clinic and finally get them relieved. Quite often when a trauma happens it can be after several months that the pain starts showing up.
Patients then think it's due to stress (like the doctor told them) but actually, their neck is painful because of the compensations that the neck has been performing for months/years.
The neck and it's relations
Neck dysfunctions can very often be responsible for headaches due to the neck's muscles and nerves connections. By releasing and mobilizing the cervical spine, osteopathy can be very efficient to decrease the pressure exerted on the nerves, the skull, the jaw and thereby decrease the symptoms.
Very often, patients describe pain or strange sensations going down into their arms, sometimes without any neck problems. Indeed, the cervical spine is the origin of many nerves going down into the arms and therefore can create symptoms. When patients describes such symptoms, the osteopath needs to assess a very precise medical examination to exclude any prolapsed disc or other severe medical cases.
The vagus nerve
Upper neck tension can potentially affect the vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve which regulates some automatic functions of the body such as the heart, the lungs and the digestive tract. This nerve comes out from the right and the left base of our skull and goes down along the cervical spine before entering the thorax behind the first ribs and the collarbone. Any mechanically caused pressure on this nerve can have an effect on systemic function (like digestion) and vice versa; any visceral issues can make this nerve send negative feedback towards the brain and affect structures on the way up (neck or sub-occipital muscle tensions). This is how neck tension are sometimes related with digestives problems. Therefore osteopathy can, by a mechanical approach, release some systemic problems.