Physical Therapy for Neck Pain

Neck pain (medically known as cervical pain) is one of the most common complaints, often a result of our bad habits of sustained postures. But not always. There are many reasons why neck pain may arise, and fixing posture isn’t always the only answer!

An evaluation with a physical therapist can help you understand the source of your neck pain, how to relieve it, and how to prevent it in the future.

At JACO, we provide a rare opportunity for you to be treated 1-on-1 by a physical therapist for over 50 minutes every session. We give you power over your injury so that you can confidently discharge from our care.

Interested in an appointment? Call us today!

Common Neck Injuries that Physical Therapists Treat

These are common neck injuries we see in the clinic often. All can be related to the neck and surrounding structures. Of course, there are others not listed. Wondering if we treat your specific symptoms? Reach out!

  • Postural Dysfunction

This usually refers to generalized neck and upper back pain. It occurs most when you’ve been in certain postures for prolonged periods of time. Symptoms can be persistent and nagging, and if left untreated, and lead to other neck issues.

  • “Pinched Nerve”

Pinched nerves are often a result of prolonged positioning that was never addressed but can be from other issues as well. Symptoms can often originate at the neck or travel to other areas, such as the shoulder blade, shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand. The goal is to centralize symptoms and prevent them from reoccurring.

  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, or TOS, is often related to restrictions in the shoulder girdle causing nerve or vascular symptoms down the arm. If left untreated or in severe cases, it can be a serious problem.

  • First Rib Dysfunction

The first rib sits right by the collar bone and is connected to muscles in your neck. If these muscles are overused, you can elevate the rib and cause compression of nerves similar to TOS. Contributing factors include smoking, vaping, heavy lifting, stress/anxiety, and history of lower rib dysfunctions causing altered breathing patterns.

  • Cervicogenic Headaches

Many headaches can originate from movement dysfunctions in the upper cervical region and associated musculature. They can feel like migraines and often occur simultaneously with neck pain in certain patterns.

  • BPPV/Vertigo

Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) is a problem in the inner ear that can make you dizzy when going through certain motions. It can be quite debilitating. If you’ve been living with this, it can easily be addressed by a physical therapist. However, it can also be a symptom of a more serious neck condition.

Why Does My Neck Hurt?

Most causes of neck pain are prolonged positioning, direct trauma, or heavy lifting. Poor posture can be a contributing factor, often related to prolonged positioning below.

  • When placed in a prolonged position, your neck could be under a lot of stress. Did you know that, on average, heads weigh about 11 pounds? If your head is leaning forward, backward, or to the side for a long time, that’s not very comfortable on the neck! Constant stress over time can create problems in neck muscles and nerves. Nerve irritation can travel to the shoulder, elbow, forearm, and hand. You may even develop headaches.
  • Direct trauma can also be a cause. This includes whiplash-associated disorders and concussions, both of which are issues that a physical therapist is highly qualified to treat.
  • Heavy lifting often causes strain in the neck or repetitive overuse of the wrong musculature to do the job. No one ever says, “Lift with your neck!” Sometimes, the affect isn’t felt immediately. It can be cumulative, causing overuse of structures that encroach on nerves, often sending pain into other places, like the arm and hand.

Does Physical Therapy Help Neck Pain?

Physical therapists are highly skilled in treating the neck. In fact, it’s one of the most common body parts we address in the clinic, and sometimes, the injury can also affect the upper back and shoulder(s).

During your first visit, a physical therapist will take measurements of your mobility, strength, and nerve involvement (if any) while screening out any other factors that could contribute to your symptoms. We determine if you’re appropriate for physical therapy or if you need to get further testing to rule out a more serious neck condition. Then, you will be given a set of exercises to perform at home to get you on the road to recovery.

Yes, you will be expected to perform these on your own! The more compliant you are, the better we can help you.

Subsequent visits check on your symptoms, make sure your exercises are performed correctly, and progress exercises toward your goals as deemed appropriate by your physical therapist.

If you’re here searching for exercises, you can reference our blog for stretching/strengthening ideas related to different symptoms and conditions. Or, better yet, get a consult with a physical therapist to make sure you’re doing the right stuff.

One exercise does not fit all – don’t let YouTube tell you differently!

Exercises are often chosen/created to address your specific impairment:

  • Difficulty looking over your shoulder in the car when checking your blind spot? We can help you gain mobility… and not crash your car.
  • Burning pain spreading from neck to shoulder blade while typing at work? We’ve got your (upper) back and some exercises for it.
  • Numbness and tingling into your fingers? We’ll give you a hand by screening your neck to see if it’s a contributing factor. Then, you’ll get exercises to help you out.

You may also gain insight into why your symptoms arose in the first place. Are you compensating for issues elsewhere? Do you need to check your workplace ergonomics? Physical therapists at JACO Rehab help you figure out the root cause, get relief, and prevent recurrence of symptoms.

Top 6 Frequently Asked Questions about Neck Injuries

1. How long does it take for neck pain to go away?

It depends. Your symptoms largely depend on how often you need to perform aggravating factors during daily life, how long you’ve had your symptoms, and how compliant you are with your treatment plan. Sometimes it’s a quick fix, and sometimes it’s not. But one thing is for sure: consistency is key.

2. How do I know if my neck pain is getting better?

Physical therapists determine improvements based on a few factors – and so should you!

  • Symptom intensity: Did your symptoms go from 8/10 pain level to a 5/10 pain level?
  • Symptom frequency: Do you still experience 8/10 symptoms, but less often throughout the day?
  • Symptom area: Are your symptoms becoming more compartmentalized? Are you hurting in less places?
  • Symptom quality: Did your pain go from sharp to dull?
  • Measurements: Are you gaining degrees in neck mobility?
  • Functionality: Have you controlled your pain enough to allow for improved ability to perform home/community/work related tasks? Are you able to sleep better through the night?
  • Passive treatments: Are you taking less pain medication? Are you relying less on lidocaine patches or ointments? Is there a reduced need for soft tissue work and passive mobility within a session?
  • Active treatments: Are you able to activate and mobilize the affected area without increased pain?

3. How Should I Sleep?

Whichever way is most comfortable for you. There are many products out there that provide support, but those products are not always necessary. Talk to your physical therapist to figure out the best setup for you so you can get some rest. Good sleep is incredibly important for recovery.

4. Should I take a medication to decrease my symptoms?

Physical therapists keep notes on your medications, but we do not prescribe medications. That question is best answered by your physician or pharmacist. However, we do advise that you always consult with your physician or pharmacist before beginning/changing any medication regimen, including herbal/vitamin supplements and ointments. Many are known to interact with other medication and worsen your health.

If you’re taking multiple medications for different conditions, it may contribute to your falls risk. Make sure your primary care physician knows all the medications you’re taking and ask questions about their interactions or side effects. It may save your life.

5. Is neck pain serious?

It isn’t always serious, but there are conditions that mimic muscle aches and headaches that should be screened out. That’s why it’s always important to see a healthcare provider for ongoing pain to rule out serious neck pain.

If you have a history of medical conditions such as cancer, childhood neck pain/headaches, auto-immune disease, high blood pressure/cardiac issues, pulmonary issues, seizure activity, diabetes, etcetera, you need to tell your physical therapist and physician so we can take these factors into account.

If your neck pain occurs with other symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, difficulty walking/talking, difficulty swallowing, unusual eye movement, and nausea, your pain may be a symptom of something more serious that requires immediate medical attention.

No matter what you find on the internet, no one knows your pain like you do. Book an evaluation with JACO Rehab’s physical therapists and get over 50 uninterrupted minutes with someone who will listen to your needs, problem-solve with you, and find the best methods for your long-term relief.

6. Will I need surgery to fix my neck?

Surgical intervention should not be the first answer to neck pain. Whenever indicated, your physician will agree to try conservative management first. There are always exceptions to this, such as serious neurological or traumatic conditions, or if strongly advised by a medical professional.

If you’re researching surgical solutions but haven’t yet considered physical therapy, don’t be afraid to bring it up to your physician.

Contact us today! We can answer any lingering questions.

Quick Tips for Injury Prevention

Prevent and Ease Common Neck Pain

Neck Exercises for Office Dwellers

These videos are not a replacement for professional physical therapy but to help alleviate for minor injuries and aches.

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