Childhood Neck Conditions
I see a variety of childhood neck conditions and some of the main ones include torticollis, sports injuries, and ear aches. Kids are rough and tumble so there are lots of chances for minor injuries. Most childhood spinal injuries go undetected until later in life.
Let’s talk about kid’s that are older than 2 years and younger than 12 years of age. During these years the bones of the spines experience rapid growth and the ossification centers begin to deposit more calcium. The necks of children in this age group are more pliable than their teen counterparts but more stable than in infancy. I am aware of some of the medical criticism of chiropractors for adjusting necks in childhood. In my experience, if the adjustment is done using lighter forces they are perfectly safe.
Talk to your children about the adjustment. Kids at this age are pretty scared of doctors and need some reassurance. Let them know that a chiropractor is a different kind of doctor. I try to explain what I will be doing, show them the tools, and be really honest about when it might hurt. If I can treat a relaxed child, the adjustment is that much less ouchy.
Torticollis is a condition where the vertebra in the neck slip out of place, causing muscle spasm. The sternocleidomastoid muscle that runs from behind the ear to the collar bone and the sternum is the culprit in this case. Children with torticollis wake up in the morning in pain. They are unable to move their neck and will have their neck in a flexed and rotated position.
Ice is the first line of defense followed by an adjustment of the vertebrae when things relax a little. This adjustment is not very pleasant if done too early in the healing. With movement of the neck, the nerve is allowed to heal and the cycle is stopped. This is an acute condition that will get better with time, a bit of ice, and some age appropriate anti-inflammatories. Keep your child calm, limit activity and move the head around in the pain free ranges of motion. If we can get some movement going, the adjustment gets easier.
Ear infections is another common condition that I treat in children. The eustachian tubes for younger kids are more parallel to the horizon and really don’t drain well. When the top bone of the spine (atlas) is rotated, this can put pressure on the upper neck and throat area, blocking the eustachian tubes. There is a buildup of fluid and bacterial infection behind the ear drum. With an adjustment of the atlas the pressure is relieved and the ears drain. The bacterial infection most often will clear up on its own and the ears should do better. Keep in mind that once a vertebra has gone out of place, it will go there again.
Sports Injuries are the last category I want to cover for this age group of children. Kids this age, are not known for generating great speeds or forces in their athletic activities, but accidents do happen. Falls from bikes, play structures, or swings have potential to cause significant injury. Kids at the upper ends of this age group are participating in organized sports that can have potential for injury. Obvious injuries like fractures and head traumas should be seen at urgent care. Later in the treatment process, it’s wise to have them checked for subluxation. This is the age group where some of these lifelong injuries happen that with a simple adjustment, we can restore them to full function without the long term effects.
Minor bumps and falls should also be checked by a chiropractor to restore any fixed vertebra that may go undetected. For optimal health, children should be checked once per month to once per quarter as a preventative to keep their spines in the best possible shape for growth and maturation.