How Can Physical Therapy Help With Neck Pain?

woman in physical therapy for neck pain

A 2015 study by the Global Spine Care Initiative found over 330 million people worldwide suffer from neck pain that continues for more than three months, and that over 30 percent of those individuals develop chronic neck pain lasting at least 12 months.

The Global Spine Care Initiative ranked lower back and neck pain as the fourth leading cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), which means the amount of quality of life in years lost to illness, disability, or premature death.

At MOTION PT Group, our dedicated physical therapists work with people every day to improve neck posture, reduce pain and stiffness, improve range of motion, and increase functional mobility. We understand and empathize with the toll that neck pain takes on your life. After all, our mission is “to get you back to what moves you.” We are dedicated to helping you achieve long-term relief so you can get back to enjoying your life.

What Causes Neck Pain?

Chronic neck pain can result from a variety of factors, and sometimes it is difficult to determine the origin of the pain. Even if the cause is unknown, physical therapy can help strengthen your neck muscles, improve range of motion, and reduce pain.

Some common causes of neck pain include:

  • Postural Neck Pain: Poor posture can increase stress on the cervical spine.
  • Herniated Disc or Bulging Disc: Discs in the spinal column work as a shock absorber between vertebrae. If any are damaged or slip out of place, irritation to the surrounding nerves can cause pain.
  • Spinal Stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal can put pressure on the nerves within the spine. This diagnosis is common among aging adults.
  • Neck Arthritis (cervical spondylosis): This type of arthritis is an age-related breakdown in the protective cartilage of the cervical spine.
  • Injury: Whiplash and other injuries can damage the tissue and joints of the neck.
  • Surgery: Certain cervical surgeries, like a fusion of the neck vertebrae, can cause pain and stiffness that lasts for several weeks or more.

Most experts agree physical therapy is an effective option for treating neck pain. Many studies have shown an improvement in posture, a reduction in pain and stiffness, a reduction in muscle spasms, and increased neck function for most physical therapy patients. Those patients who commit to a home program recommended by their physical therapist may experience enhanced long-term relief.

What to Expect From Your Physical Therapy Session

First Session

The more we know about your specific situation, the better we can get you the relief you need and deserve. You can help by preparing for your first visit. Jot down detailed notes about your symptoms and anything that worsens or relieves the pain and bring your notes to the session.

During your first visit, your physical therapist will conduct a thorough physical examination and functional assessment to determine your starting point. We may ask you to move around while we assess certain functions, so please dress comfortably. Throughout this and every visit, we encourage you to ask questions and provide feedback.

We will consider:

  • Your range of motion and how well you can move your neck
  • Your strength and reflexes
  • Specifics on your pain:
    • Is pain present only in the neck?
    • Between the shoulders?
    • Does the pain radiate down the arm to the hand?
    • Are you experiencing numbness or tingling?
    • Do you have headaches?
    • What is your pain level?
    • What worsens or relieves pain?
  • In what ways does your neck pain affect your ability to function?
  • In what ways does the pain affect your quality of life?

By carefully examining the data we collect, including your medical history, results of the physical exam, findings from the functional assessment, and information provided by you and your physician, we will develop a treatment plan that addresses your specific goals.

We Will Determine Your Physical Therapy Goals Together

You and your MOTION physical therapist will work together as partners when developing your treatment goals, and you will continue to work as a team throughout therapy. Your input is crucial and valued.

While goals are unique to each patient, common goals of those suffering from neck pain include some or all of the following:

  • Reduce pain and stiffness
  • Increase head and neck range of motion
  • Strengthen neck and core body muscles
  • Reduce or prevent muscle spasms
  • Design a long-term plan to keep pain and impaired function from recurring

You may have additional goals that you should discuss with your therapist.

Physical Therapy Treatment Methods and Tools For Neck Pain

We incorporate both passive physical therapy and active physical therapy into your treatment plan.

Passive physical therapy

Passive physical therapy means treatment methods that therapists apply to you without your active participation. Passive PT may include the use of ice packs or heat therapy, massage therapy, ultrasound, electrotherapy, and more.

  • Ice Packs/Heat Therapy increases blood flow, loosens stiff muscles, reduces pain and edema.
  • Massage Therapy loosens and relaxes muscles to reduce pain and stiffness.
  • Ultrasound delivers painless, high-energy sound waves to relax tight muscles, reduce muscle spasms, and increase circulation.
  • Cervical Traction pulls your head away from your neck to reduce compression and ease pressure on affected discs.
  • Electrotherapy delivers painless electrical impulses to reduce pain and improve circulation, muscle tension, and function.

It is important to note that although you can self-administer some passive therapies at home, you should first consult with your physical therapist or another trained practitioner to learn the correct application of each treatment. Even ice or heat packs can be harmful or ineffective if not used correctly.

Active physical therapy

Active physical therapy means you are actively moving your body through exercises to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support your neck to improve your posture and increase your range of motion. Active physical therapy for the neck may include some or all of the following practices:

  • Neck stretches and exercises strengthen and elongate the muscles that attach directly to the cervical spine.
  • Core muscle strengthening strengthens the muscles that run from the base of your head to your pelvis (core). A stronger core, especially the cervical spine, helps reduce neck pain and improve flexibility.
  • Aerobic activity increases circulation, flexibility, heart and lung capacity, and strengthens muscles.

Why Choose MOTION?

Since 2015, MOTION has provided transformative physical, occupational, and work injury therapy services to clients of all ages. At MOTION, our mission is to improve the lives of every client as we help them get back to what moves them. Guided by our values of compassion, empowerment, integrity, and teamwork, we promise we will not stop until we empower you to recover.

Our goal is to help you live a happier, more active life by helping you reduce or eliminate your neck pain so you can move freely as you enjoy your daily activities.

We will teach you how to take what you learn at your physical therapy sessions home so you can continue to strengthen your body, improve your quality of life, and get back to doing what you love quickly and safely. If you are diligent in practicing home therapy as recommended by your physical therapist, you will progress quickly and increase your chances for long-term recovery.

At MOTION, we are proud of the feedback we receive from current or past clients stating how physical therapy has improved their lives. That’s what moves us to do what we do.

In response to the needs of so many people who are struggling to regain their health and vitality after suffering from COVID-19, we are proud to announce our Post-Acute COVID Recovery Program. If you or a loved one is still experiencing symptoms weeks or months after the initial infection, we can help.

Contact us today to schedule an in-clinic or telehealth appointment.