Got pain in the neck?
By Mindy Murray, PTR and Molly Radonich, LAT, ATC
If you find yourself as one of the many who suffer from neck pain, this article is for you! Read below to find the common causes and solutions.
Reasons for Neck Pain and Stiffness
We have all experienced neck pain at one point or another in our lives, and we see it a lot in our practice. Neck pain is often debilitating and can prevent you from doing functional daily activities like washing your hair or driving. Each year, approximately 30 percent of the adult population suffers from neck pain and stiffness. If not treated properly it can become a long-term issue. There are several reasons why neck pain may occur, including arthritis, whiplash and cervical disc herniation.
Arthritis is commonly caused from wear and tear over time. Minor traumas to the cervical spine and its structures cause a degeneration of bones and joints. In the neck, osteoarthritis is often the diagnosis, or degenerative joint disease of the neck. This can be due to bad posture. Many people spend hours a day at a computer that is not set up to be ergonomically efficient, which leads to muscle weakness, tight muscles, and can become very painful.
Whiplash is another reason for neck pain. Whiplash can be caused from a sudden movement of the head backward and then forward—such as in car accidents or falls. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments past what they are used to. Most people recover completely from a whiplash injury in the first six weeks, while others have symptoms that improve over the course of a year. For about two to three weeks, avoid activities that bring on or worsen your pain and stiffness.
Herniated discs in the cervical spine can also be a reason for neck pain. The discs in your spine act as shock absorbers and help keep the spine flexible. When they are herniated, it is because they have bulged or ruptured. Cervical disc injuries can compress spinal nerve roots, causing a pinched nerve and are often used to explain neck, shoulder and arm pain syndromes. Herniated discs can take about six months to fully heal with physical therapy, but most last about six to eight weeks. Spinal decompression recommended by a physical therapist can be very beneficial for decompression of the cervical spine.
Treatment of Neck Pain and Stiffness
If you are like me, you want the easiest, most affordable solution. A licensed physical or occupational therapist will perform an initial examination to identify the cause of the pain. One of our main goals should be empowering you on how to address the issue so it will go away forever. Several clinical tests are performed to identify the problematic areas in posture, strength, flexibility and muscle function. Typical treatments may include:
1. Protection of the neck is initially a must to prevent further damage. This may include relative rest for a period of time and education about damaging activities and movements.
2. Posture can be improved by simply adjusting the height of your computer screen and your keyboard compared to your chair. Driving can be another contributing factor to postural issues. Slouching, forward head posture and sitting crooked are common driving positions, and when someone spends a lot of time in the car or simply sitting, the positions can transfer to other aspects of life.
3. Flexibility movements to increase mobility of the neck musculature without pain or discomfort are included in the neck pain treatment plan. These should be gentle and progressive with emphasis on proper body mechanics.
4. Progressive strengthening exercises for different muscle groups are also included in the treatment of neck pain. There are specific neck exercises that help get range of motion back, strengthen, and relieve stiffness and pain. Make an appointment with a physical therapist and learn how to do the exercises properly, then do them at home as the therapist specifies.
5. Advanced techniques like modalities such as the 830 Cold Laser, or Dry Needling Therapy, medical massage, mobilizations and hands-on therapy—all under the expert supervision of the physical or occupational therapist—can be effective ways to decrease neck pain.