Roughly half of all people will experience neck pain at some point in their lifetimes.1 Although neck pain is common, people should not assume it is benign or self-limiting. Neck pain is a major public health problem. When accidents cause neck pain and there is no rehab, the pain becomes chronic in up to 40% of cases.2 The pain can come and go, so pain-free periods should not be interpreted as a spontaneous recovery.
Pain medications may help ease flare-ups but do not address the source of the problem. A physical therapy assessment can identify the specific deficits causing the pain. Treatments including targeted strengthening, strategic stretching, and hands-on treatments can help correct the causes. In fact, multiple scientific studies show how treatments in physical therapy are effective at improving pain, speeding recovery, and improving ability, compared to just advice and medication.3-10
People usually experience neck pain down the sides or back of the neck. It can range from dull and throbbing to sharp and stabbing. In the case of torticollis, muscle spasm can cause the head to twist to one side. The good news is that most cases do not require surgery.
Causes of Neck Pain
- Accidents and injuries including whiplash
- Poor posture
- Forward head (In resting position, the head does not rest over the shoulders and back. Instead, it pokes forward, putting constant strain on postural muscles and adding damage to joints from regular movements.)
- Repetitive stress to the joints
- Emotional stress leading to muscle contractions
- Cancer or bone disorders (far less common as a cause)
Exercises and stretches may worsen conditions, especially where injuries are concerned. Even heat or cold can worsen conditions when applied at the wrong time. The neck has relatively delicate structures. It’s never a bad idea to consult a physical therapist about building a self-care plan before getting started.
- Gentle self-massage
- Gentle stretches
- Applying heat to spasms and stiffness (do not apply heat to injuries without professional guidance)
- Practicing good posture, especially at work
- Sleeping in a position that supports the neck.
- Improving sleep posture.
- Shoulder and upper back exercises and stretches
- Gentle exercises to strengthen the muscles at the back of neck. For example, lying on the bed with your head hanging off, and very slowly lowering and raising your head against gravity. Try not to rotate the head.
When the pain makes you wince, or interferes with relaxation or daily activities, it’s a good time to consult a physical therapist. The earlier the better. Early treatment, even during the acute phase of injuries, has been shown to produce better long-term results compared to delayed treatment, and much better results compared to no physical therapy.
The Step Ahead Physical Therapy Neck Pain Approach
All treatment plans focus on efficiency, getting you out of pain as fast as possible, using passive interventions only as much as is helpful, and minimizing the number of visits. We do not attempt to turn every client into life-long, regularly scheduled users of passive treatments. Instead, we focus on empowering patients to effectively manage their health and ability as independently as possible. All treatment plans are individualized based on a thorough assessment, but may include the following.
- Thorough assessment including
- Functional Movement Screening
- Range of motion
- Strength testing
- Resting posture evaluation
- Evaluation of posture of activities
- Hot or cold treatments and training for self-care
- Pain reduction modalities such as transcutaneous electrical stimulation or active iontophoresis
- Hands-on therapies such as passive range of motion, massage, soft-tissue mobilization, and joint mobilization
- Targeted strengthening, stretching, and work conditioning
- Patient education and training in a home exercise and self-care plan that will empower patients to take control of their condition for life
Want to learn more about the benefits of physical therapy for neck pain? Contact Us Today at Step Ahead Physical Therapy for more information and be sure to schedule an initial consultation.
- Fejer R, Kyvik KO, Hartvigsen J. The prevalence of neck pain in the world population: a systematic critical review of the literature. European Spine Journal. 2006 Jun 1;15(6):834-48.
- Schofferman J, Bogduk N, Slosar P. Chronic whiplash and whiplash-associated disorders: an evidence-based approach. JAAOS-Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2007 Oct 1;15(10):596-606.
- De las Penas C, Fernandez-Carnero J, del Cerro L, Miangolarra-Page J. Manipulative treatment vs. conventional physiotherapy treatment in whiplash injury: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Whiplash & Related Disorders. 2004; 3 (2): 73-90.
- Rosenfeld M, Serferiadas A, Carlsson J, et al. Active intervention in patients with whiplash-associated disorders improves long-term prognosis. Spine 2003; 28: 2491-8.
- Gross A, Kay T, Hondras M. et al. Manual therapy for mechanical neck disorders: a systematic review. Man Ther. 2002 Aug; 7 (3): 131-49.
- Rosenfeld M, Gunnarsson R, Borenstein P. Early intervention in whiplash-associated disorders: a comparison of two treatment protocols. Spine 2000; 25: 1782-7.
- McKinney L, Dornan J, Ryan M. The role of physiotherapy in the management of acute neck sprains following road-traffic accidents. Arch Emerg Med 1989; 6: 27-33.
- Mealy K, Brennan H, Fenelon G. Early mobilization of acute whiplash injuries. Br Med J Clin Res Ed 1986; 292: 656-7
- McKinney L. Early mobilization and outcome in acute sprains of the neck. BMJ 1989; 299: 1006-8.
- Suissa S, Giroux M, Gervais M, et al. Assessing a whiplash management model: a population-based non-randomized intervention study. J Rheumatol. 2006; 33: 581-7.