Neck pain is the third most reported medical condition in the United States and is caused by a variety of conditions that affect the spine, muscles, and ligaments around the base of the skull. Pain can be localized directly around the neck or it can spread down your arms and spine. Beyond the extreme discomfort, neck pain seriously affects an individual’s ability to work and participate in day-to-day activities. When neck pain is present, it’s important to first pinpoint the source and reason for the pain.
Where is my neck pain coming from?
Symptoms of neck pain can be felt directly around the neck area or in secondary areas like the upper arms, shoulder blades, forearms, or hands. Whether it’s the result of a sudden trauma or a more serious issue of the spine, If the source of pain is left untreated, conditions of the neck have the potential to become long lasting. Generally speaking, neck pain can fall into one of two categories:
Localized Neck Pain: Pain in and around the neck area may be a result of mechanical issues related to pressure and strain of the muscles along the neck and shoulders. Poor posture or any type of prolonged positions in which the neck is strained, such as sleeping or slouching while sitting, can easily cause neck pain. Symptoms like neck stiffness, tightness, tenderness, loss of range of motion around the neck, headaches, or pressure-like sensations around the head are common when suffering from localized neck pain. Maintaining correct everyday posture plays an important role with any general neck stiffness or pain.
Nerve-Related Neck Pain: Cervical radiculopathy, or nerve compression in the upper spine, causes symptoms felt in the shoulders, arms, or hands. There are many causes of cervical radiculopathy, such as disc herniation and stenosis. Symptoms may include tingling or feeling “pins and needles” in the arms or hands, weakness in the muscles of the arms, shoulders, or hands, or a loss of sensation in the upper extremities. The earlier you get a diagnosis for nerve compression, the more quickly you’ll find relief.
When should I seek treatment for my neck pain?
You should seek help if you have any stiffness or pain in your neck or if you experience radiating symptoms in your arms. A thorough physical therapy evaluation can help determine the source of the neck pain and determine if you need to see a medical doctor for further testing. Once you have a better understanding of your pain, you can begin to make the necessary changes to feel better.
How can a physical therapist help me with my neck pain?
A comprehensive physical therapy evaluation for neck pain is used to help determine the source of your pain and to create a treatment plan to help you feel better in the long-term. An evaluation includes analysis of your alignment or posture, a neurological screen to see if any nerves are involved, mobility testing to see how your neck moves, and strength testing of your neck and arms. Education regarding postural alignment during daily activities is key for successful treatment.
Physical therapists have many tools in their “toolbox” to help you feel better. They may incorporate key factors into your treatment, such as:
• Manual Therapy to restore motion with hands-on techniques and specific mobilization to the joints in the spine. Other manual techniques are used to treat the soft tissues that can cause pain, limit motion, and make it difficult for you to hold your neck up with proper posture.
• Mechanical Treatment involves repetitive movements to produce a symptomatic response that will lead to centralization and abolishment of pain.
• Custom Exercises and Posture Training uses strengthening and stretching exercises (ex: yoga, TRX training, weight training) to compliment manual techniques and to address the muscle imbalance that develops from prolonged poor posture.
• Ergonomic Analysis to determine if prolonged postures or movements that your body is used to are contributing to your symptoms. Your physical therapist will also go over proper ergonomics to help to reduce your neck pain.
Physical therapists can provide the necessary tools to prevent and/or treat neck pain, allowing you to return to your favorite activities pain-free and better than ever! To learn more about how to prevent neck pain injuries or to eliminate any current discomfort, book a physical therapy assessment today.
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“Dealing with neck pain can be rough, but from the minute I walked in, I had a good feeling about Therapydia. My physical therapist was knowledgeable, thoughtful, and extremely attentive to every pain that I brought up. After only five weeks, I already feel more improvement than I made in the last two years.”