Neck pain is one of the most common conditions we see and in many cases the patient’s pain has been taking a toll on their quality of life for quite some time. Because the neck is an integral area of everyday movement, ordinary actions like trying to sit up straight in your chair at work, tilting your head down to tie your shoes, and looking side-to-side are accompanied by pain and prevent you from functioning properly in your day-to-day life. Whether your neck pain came about suddenly after a traumatic injury or crept up on you over time, an individualized physical therapy program is often a very effective and efficient at putting an end to the pain cycle and can even help people avoid the need for surgery or medication.
Where does neck pain come from? In many cases, a traumatic accident can do acute damage to the complex structures and delicate tissues that make up the neck. But even more frequently, neck pain develops gradually in connection with an underlying chronic issue. Common causes of neck pain include:
Injury Whiplash is one of the most common injuries that results in neck pain, typically sustained by an automobile or high-impact sport collision. This is known as a “strain” injury
Muscle strains The muscles in your neck can become strained by overuse. Even something as simple as sitting at your desk all day with your neck forward, toward the computer screen can lead to a strain in your neck muscles.
Nerve compression If you have a herniated disc in your neck, the nerves that branch out from your spinal cord can become compressed. In some cases, nerve pain can even extend from the neck all the way down to the hands and fingers — a condition known as “radiculopathy.”
Joint degeneration Much like any other joint in your body, the neck joints can wear down with age, causing pain. Conditions such as osteoarthritis can also reduce the cartilage between the vertebrae in the neck, also resulting in neck pain.
Poor posture A stooped posture, such as the “text neck” caused by always gazing downward at your smartphone or computer even driving, can strain the neck muscles.
Repetitive motion injury If your job or sport causes you to turn your head over and over, you may develop a repetitive motion injury such as tendonitis.
Surgery Some surgeries performed on the neck can result in significant pain and stiffness in the weeks and months that follow. Surgical procedures, such as an anterior cervical discectomy with fusion (ACDF), involve the fusion of 2 or more vertebrae in the neck, which can alter how some neck and upper back muscles move. In such cases, rehabilitative therapy works through stiffness, increases neck function, and reduces or prevents painful spasms as the muscles are reconditioned.
Physical Therapy for Neck Pain Physical Therapists understand how the various structures of the neck should work together, and what kinds of symptoms indicate specific disorders or injuries. Once we have examined the cervical spine, range of motion, symptoms (including neurological symptoms referred to the upper extremities), and medical history, we can create a treatment plan that tames the nagging discomfort and improves function for long-term relief. Treatment often involves identifying lifestyle factors and making changes to habits throughout the patient's day such as making modifications to their work environment, sleeping or pillow positions, as well as making them aware of everyday posture. The initial phase of physical therapy for neck pain often involves more passive treatments, but more and more active treatments are typically incorporated over time.
Passive physical therapy are treatments applied without effort from the patient. Treatment methods vary from patient to patient and may include one or more of the following: Cupping Therapy, Dry Needling, massage therapy, and others. The goal of passive physical therapy is to help reduce pain and swelling.
Active physical therapy is the phase of treatment that involves the patient moving his or her own body through exercises and stretches. By improving strength and flexibility in the neck, these muscles are better able to maintain good posture, which reduces stress on the cervical spine.
Dry Needling for Neck Pain When you have neck pain, the muscles in your neck are often painful to the touch. The irritable, hard “knots” within a muscle or connective tissue are called trigger points. Dry Needling is a treatment that involves pushing a very thin needle through the skin to stimulate a trigger point. The goal is to relax the tight muscle bands associated with trigger points, and many of our patients experience a decrease in pain and increase in range of motion soon after treatment. Dry needling is typically combined with other treatments, including exercises to further lessen pain and improve motion and the ability to perform daily activities.
Pilates For Neck Pain
Your head, neck and shoulder alignment all play a crucial role in allowing the neck and shoulder stabilizing muscles to do their job correctly. Very often the neck problems we see are posture related, and poor neck and shoulder posture leads to tightness in certain areas around the neck and shoulders along with stiffness in the joints and often headaches. Pilates is especially useful in strengthening the stabilizing muscles of the neck and shoulder/shoulder blades while creating better posture. A few ways Pilates can improve neck pain:
Elongate and align the spine for better stability
Strengthen the back muscles evenly - correcting muscle imbalances
Strengthen the abdominals to lift the head/neck
Improve flexibility, strength, and balance
Increase range of motion in the joints of the neck
Enhance concentration through focused breathing
Restore symmetry to the body