Physical Therapy Guide to Neck pain

Neck pain most frequently affects adults aged 30 to 50 years. Some studies indicate that women are more likely to suffer neck pain than men. Poor posture, obesity, smoking, repetitive lifting, office and computer work, and involvement in athletic activity are all risk factors for developing neck pain. 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.


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

  • Headaches

  • 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


How Can a Physical Therapist Help?


Recent research has shown that physical therapy is a better treatment than surgery or pain medication (such as opioid medication) for relieving many cases of neck pain. Physical therapy treatments often can help people avoid the need for surgery or medication altogether.

Your physical therapist 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.

The time it takes to heal each condition varies, but an individualized physical therapy program can be effective and efficient, and help heal neck pain in a matter of weeks.

Your physical therapist 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.

Your physical therapist will work with you to:

  • Reduce pain and other symptoms

  • Avoid surgery

  • Improve posture

  • Improve motion

  • Improve flexibility

  • Improve strength

  • Improve endurance

  • Learn a home program

  • Return to Activities



Can This Injury or Condition Be Prevented?


To prevent neck pain, people should:

  • Maintain good posture (avoid slouching) at all times. That means keeping the spine and head in proper alignment during sitting, standing, and all daily activities.

  • Keep your muscles strong and flexible. Participate in a consistent program of physical activity to maintain a healthy fitness level.

  • Use proper body mechanics when lifting, pushing, pulling, or performing any action that puts extra stress on your spine.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. This will reduce the stress on your spine.

  • Stop smoking.

  • Discuss your occupation with a physical therapist, who can provide an analysis of your job tasks and offer suggestions for reducing your risk of injury.

To prevent recurrence of neck pain, follow the above advice, and:

  • Continue the new posture and movement habits that you learned from your physical therapist to keep your back healthy.

  • Continue to do your home-exercise program as taught to you by your physical therapist. This will help maintain your improvements.

  • Continue to be physically active and stay fit.




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