Why Does My Neck Hurt? How Physical Therapy for Neck Pain Can Help
Dealing with neck pain can be distressing and frustrating. Whether you’re suffering from neck pain due to chronic inflammation, a neck sprain from an accident, sports injury or stiffness from stress, physical therapy for neck pain can help you recover and get back to doing what you love.
Physical therapy sessions include instruction in activities you can do at home to help you relieve pain, support recovery, and prevent recurrence. Let’s take a look at some of the most common causes of neck pain and how you can find the relief you need.
4 Reasons Your Neck Hurts
Neck pain often occurs when muscles are overused, strained or stretched too far. Pain can range from a mild stiffness to severe debilitation.
The most common causes of neck pain include:
Poor Body Mechanics
If you work at the computer five days a week or you’re a student carrying a heavy backpack, you might suffer from neck problems. Poor posture, especially with a forward head position common in those who look down at a keyboard or cell phone, can lead to mild to severe neck or back sprains and strains. Putting repetitive strain on neck and upper back muscles and ligaments by improper body mechanics may lead to neck and upper back pain, and possibly be the cause of recurrent to chronic headaches.
Sleeping awkwardly can also stress connective tissue of the neck resulting in pain and decreased movement. Proper sleeping position is important to avoid abnormal stress on these structures. During physical therapy you will learn positioning for a good night’s sleep, waking refreshed and not holding your neck.
Neck pain may be from a direct injury, most commonly whiplash. Whiplash is often caused by a sports injury or automobile accident. The sudden jerk forward and backward motion of whiplash can affect muscles, ligaments, and bones in the neck.
Protect yourself from severe injuries by wearing a seat belt while riding in a car and always wearing the appropriate protective sports gear.
Deep or aching pain may indicate that the vertebrae facet joints are deteriorating due to overuse and/or aging. Arthritis means joint inflammation. Neck arthritis can occur when neck joints are aggravated as an individual is in the same position for too long, such as when driving or looking at a computer screen for too long. This kind of pain can radiate to the upper back, shoulders, arms and cause numbness or weakness in the limbs.
Insidious Nerve Pain
Often, we are uncertain of the cause of neck pain. Sharp pain that feels like pins and needles or severe pain that travels down the arm or into the hand may be coming from the roots of the spinal nerves. Other symptoms associated with a pinched nerve may include tingling, weakness, or numbness. The cause of a pinched nerve may be the result of “wear and tear” in older individuals. In younger individuals, it could be due to an injury. Physical therapy can help to ease the symptoms, correct the underlying cause, and provide instruction on remaining pain free.
A herniated disk, a consequence of either aging or injury, can irritate nearby nerves and cause neck pain and even lead to arm pain. According to APTA, repeated lifting, participating in weight-bearing sports, obesity, smoking, and poor posture are all risk factors for a herniated disc. While a herniated disk definitely sounds scary, clinical research has shown specific disc injuries respond well to physical therapy avoiding more aggressive interventions.
Symptoms of Neck Pain
Neck pain can cause several symptoms including the inability to rotate the neck or look up, weakness in the arm or shoulder muscles, muscle spasms, radiating pain, increased pain with certain movements, stiffness and much more.
The severity of the injury and location of symptoms will vary, but many patients will describe neck pain as:
- Dull, Aching Pain
- Tingling Sensation
Find Relief with DIY Treatment
If you have a pain in the neck, you’re not alone. Impacting more than just physical health, neck pains can affect social and mental well-being as well. Studies show that neck pain ranks in the top five disorders in the United States, with approximately 30% of people reporting incidents of neck pain. Luckily, most neck pain can be managed with a few simple at home treatments, other more severe cases will require physical therapy intervention.
Seek out the services of a physical therapist for the most appropriate treatment of neck pain. Included in the physical therapist’s plan of care will be treatments to do at home. Interventions included in the home program may include the following:
Home Treatments for Neck Pain
- Ice– Use an ice pack for up to 15 minutes at a time to slow the circulation and decrease minor inflammation. Ice treatments have been demonstrated to significantly decrease the need for pain medication.
- Heat– may relax tense muscles and relax stiff muscles before exercise. Dry heat (such as an electrical heating pad) or moist heat (such as steamed towels) can both be used.
- Stretching– Slowly stretch the neck muscles by moving as described by the physical therapist. This can help reduce stiffness and improve head and neck range of motion.
- Posture check– Engage in good posture when looking at devices or working at a computer. Several studies show that the best ergonomic position for working is to have the center of your computer screen about 17-18 degrees below horizontal for optimal viewing. Consider a standing desk, use a headset for phone calls and take breaks whenever possible. Often a simple fix can make a huge difference.
- Sleep– Optimal positioning to support the neck is critical for a good night’s sleep. Physical therapists will help find the best position for you to sleep in.
- Hydration– Staying hydrated will help to keep joints, spinal discs and muscles lubricated which helps enhance flexibility and decrease pain.
- Don’t smoke – smoking has been demonstrated to delay healing from an injury or illness.
- Exercise– Keep your muscles strong by participating in a consistent weight-bearing physical activity program. Strengthening the core, for example, can help to support the spine and make it easier to maintain good posture. Active exercises will increase circulation to the affected area better than passive heat treatments.
Physical Therapy Treatment
When you’ve tried it all and still need to find relief, consult with a professional who specializes in physical therapy for neck pain to determine the root cause and help alleviate symptoms. Much recent research has shown that physical therapy can be an optimal treatment option over surgery or pain medication (such as opioids) to relieve neck pain.
Treatment plans will vary depending on individual needs but may include passive and active therapy such as ice and heat, hand-on stretching, traction, postural correction, joint mobilization, massage and/or ultrasound. Additionally, a physical therapist will work with you to develop strategies to help prevent pain from recurring.
As one of the best physical therapy centers in NJ, Twin Boro utilizes a unique One2Four approach to help patients find the relief they need. Call the skilled experts at1-888-416-8001 or schedule an appointment to learn more about Twin Boro Physical Therapy in NJ and a treatment plan for your unique goals.
Twin Boro Physical Therapy: Voted Readers’ Choice Best of New Jersey
Voted Readers’ Choice Best of New Jersey, Twin Boro has provided NJ residents with high quality physical therapy and rehab for over 38 years! It’s our award-winning approach, proven results and reputation that sets us apart. By incorporating the One2Four program into each patient’s program, the latest and most reliable scientific research and techniques are incorporated into effective evidence-based practice. We deliver only the highest standard of care with the unique One2Four approach.
It’s no surprise that Twin Boro Physical Therapy has also been voted the best physical therapy practice in New Jersey by the readers of mycentraljersey.com.