People with neck pain can have difficulty performing activities such as working, driving, playing sports, or simply turning their heads. The majority of neck pain episodes do not require surgery and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design individualized treatment programs to help people with neck pain reduce or eliminate pain, regain normal movement, and get back to their regular activities.
Neck pain is a common complaint. Neck muscles can be strained from poor posture — whether it's leaning over your computer or hunching over your workbench. Osteoarthritis also is a common cause of neck pain
Signs and Symptoms:
The type and location of your symptoms depend on the tissue or structure that is affected, and the severity of the injury.
Neck pain can cause any of the following signs:
- Inability to bend or rotate the neck
- Difficulty looking up
- Difficulty looking over the shoulder
- Weak arm and shoulder muscles
- Muscle spasms
Neck pain can cause any of the following symptoms:
- Pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, or hands
- Numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, or hands
- Weakness in the arms
- Increased pain when coughing, sneezing, reaching, or sitting
- Inability to stand straight or sit up straight
- Stiffness when trying to move, or a feeling of being "stuck" in a position such as stooped forward, or with the head leaning to the side
- Tight muscles
- Inability to remain in one position for a long period of time, such as sitting or standing, due to pain
- Pain that is worse in the morning or at night
- Difficulty sleeping due to pain
Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, so it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Neck pain causes include:
- Muscle strains. Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over your computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
- Worn joints. Just like the other joints in your body, your neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain.
- Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of your neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
- Injuries. Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
- Diseases. Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.
We will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will speed your recovery, including exercises and treatments that you can do at home. Physical therapy can help you return to your normal lifestyle and activities.
We may advise you to:
- Rest the painful area by avoiding activity that causes worsening symptoms in the neck or arms.
- Stay active around the house, avoid prolonged bed rest, and go on short walks several times per day. Movement will decrease pain and stiffness, and help you feel better.
- Perform the simple neck movements he or she will teach you. These can help reduce stiffness and pain and restore normal motion of the neck.
- Apply moist heat or ice packs to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 hours.
- Sit in firm chairs. Soft couches and easy chairs may make your problems worse.
- Consult with a physician for further services, such as medication or medical tests.
We will work with you to:
Reduce pain and other symptoms. We will help you understand how to avoid or modify the activities that caused the injury, so healing can begin. He or she may use different types of treatments and technologies to control and reduce your pain and symptoms. These may include gentle hands-on techniques, known as manual therapy, that he or she will perform for you; specific neck movements that you will be taught to perform yourself; and the use of technologies, such as electrical stimulation or traction, as required. We examine each person individually to determine exactly what type of approach will help reduce pain.
Avoid surgery. In most cases, we design an individualized treatment program to help relieve neck pain—even severe radiculopathy (pain that travels from the neck down into the arm or hand)—to help individuals with neck pain avoid surgery. In rare cases, radiculopathy requires surgery to relieve its cause.
Improve posture. If we find that poor posture has contributed to your neck pain, he or she will teach you how to improve your posture so healing can occur.
Improve motion. We will choose specific activities and treatments to help restore normal movement in any stiff joints. These might include "passive" motions that the physical therapist performs for you to move your spine, or active exercises and stretches that you do yourself. You can perform these motions at home, in your workplace, and before your sports activities to help hasten healing and pain relief.
Improve flexibility. We will determine if any of the involved muscles are tight, and teach you gentle stretching exercises that you can perform at home. He or she also may supervise your performance of special stretches during your physical therapy treatments.
Improve strength. If we finds any weak or injured muscles, we will choose and teach you the correct exercises to gently restore your strength and agility. For neck pain, “core strengthening or stabilization” is commonly used to restore the strength and coordination of muscles around your spine.
Improve endurance. Restoring muscular endurance is important for people with neck pain. We will develop a program of activities to help you regain the endurance you had before the neck pain started.
Learn a home program. We will teach you strengthening, stretching, and pain-reduction exercises to perform at home. These exercises will be specific for your needs. If you do them as prescribed by your physical therapist, you can speed your recovery.
Return to Activities. We will discuss your activity levels with you and use them to set your work, sport, and home-life recovery goals. Your treatment program will help you reach your goals in the safest, fastest, and most effective way possible. For spine problems like neck pain, we may teach you correct ways to lift objects (called “body mechanics”) that will help protect your spine from further injury.
As your neck pain is improving, it will be important for you to continue your new posture and movement habits to keep your neck healthy and pain free.