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Neck pain is one of the most irritating health conditions, and it is the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide.  The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) reports that nearly thirty percent of people experience neck pain each year. The pain caused in the neck is the result of a variety of disorders and diseases.

The nerve pathways in the neck suffer irritation and cause pain that can travel to the shoulder, head, arms, or hands. If the pain is acute, it usually disappears in a few days or weeks. But if the pain persists for more than two months, it might be chronic neck pain. It feels like a shock-like pain and could be a sign of an underlying condition that needs to be treated. Neck pain may interfere with everyday activities and reduce the ability to sleep or spend time with family.

That being said, physical therapists are experts in treating any kind of chronic pain, and neck pain is not an exception. Physical therapists examine the area of pain and locate the primary source of neck pain so that they can come up with a treatment plan that promotes neck pain relief.

Causes of Chronic Neck Pain

Chronic neck pain can be the result of various conditions, and some of them are listed below.

1) Arthritis

Osteoarthritis results in the degeneration of cartilage between the vertebrae in the neck. The condition occurs with age and weakens the discs in the spine. It also adds stress to the joints. The joints become inflamed and lead to neck pain. Osteoarthritis condition that affects the neck and the spine is termed cervical spondylosis. It causes headaches and muscle spasms in the neck and shoulder.

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2) Cervical Herniated Disc

When the jelly-like substance present in the inner portion of a disc in the cervical spine protrudes through the outer layer, it compresses the spinal nerve causing pain and irritation. The pain sometimes travels from the neck to the leg, thus leading to radiculopathy.

3) Bad Posture

An incorrect posture maintained throughout the day can be dangerous for the neck. It increases stress and strain on the cervical spine and the muscles and ligaments that provide support to the neck. It can lead to chronic neck pain and is one of the most common causes of pain in the neck.

4) Whiplash

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries, maybe due to a car accident, that causes sudden and rapid back and forth movement of the neck. It stiffens and contracts the soft tissues in the neck and leads to neck pain.

Symptoms of Neck Pain

Some of the symptoms of neck pain may include 

  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle tightness
  • Headache
  • Inability to move the head
  • Weakness in the arms, hands, and shoulder
  • Worsening pain while driving or working at a computer.

Physical Therapy Treatments for Neck Pain Relief

When patients first visit a physical therapy clinic to treat neck pain, the physical therapist will ask for their medical history, examine their posture and mobility, and feel the curvature of the pain. These analyses help them determine the underlying cause of the pain and provide the patients with individualized treatment that aids in neck pain relief.

1) Exercises

Therapeutic exercises play a vital role in relieving neck pain. Physical therapists may recommend stretching, strengthening, and aerobic exercises as part of the treatment plan. Neck joints can regain flexibility, range of motion, and elasticity and relieve stiffness when the patient incorporates neck stretching exercises in their routine. Some neck stretches include neck extension, neck flexion, neck rotation, and lateral neck flexion.

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Neck strengthening exercises are effective for maintaining an improved posture and reduce the recurrence of pain. Chin tuck, back burn, scapular squeeze, lat pulldown are some examples of neck strengthening exercises.

Aerobic exercises loosen the neck muscles and promote the range of motion by increasing blood flow to the neck and upper back. Natural painkillers called endorphins are released and promote neck pain relief when these exercises are done for about 30 minutes or more. Walking, cycling and swimming are some examples of aerobic exercises.

2) Massage Therapy

In massage therapy, physical therapists treat soft tissues like muscles, tendons, and ligaments by applying varying pressure with their hands and fingers. This therapy relaxes the muscles, reduces tension and spasms, and relieves neck pain. 

3) Manual Traction

This therapy is one of the hands-on techniques where the therapists use their hands to stretch and mobilize the spine. It increases space in the irritated nerves and helps to reduce pain, and improves range of motion. Patients can use a mechanical traction device to perform manual traction at the comfort of their homes.

4) Heat and cold therapy is one of the effective methods to relieve neck pain. They help to reduce inflammation, muscle spasms and promote neck pain relief. Other treatments preferred to treat pain in the neck include transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation or TENS, ultrasound therapy, and acupuncture.

Final Thoughts

Neck pain can cause irritation and limits the ability to perform everyday tasks with ease. Maintaining a correct posture is crucial to prevent the recurrence of neck pain in the future. Physical therapists also analyze the patients’ workplace ergonomics and educate them to correct their poor posture, one of the major causes of neck pain.