Why do so many people have neck pain, and how can physical therapy help?

Why do so many people have neck pain, and how can physical therapy help?

June 5, 2021

Neck pain is one of the most common complaints seen in our office. We start with a full assessment to help determine where the pain is coming from, how long it’s been building up, and what treatment options are available, then we set to work making sure you leave feeling better.

The neck (or cervical region) is a balance of flexibility (so we can turn our heads!) and stability (so our heads don’t fall too far back when we look up!). The saying “that’s a pain in the neck” exists for a reason – pains in our necks really are irritating!

The cervical spine is made up of seven stacked vertebra. Each one has nerves running through it and out of it sending signals up and down from the brain to the body and back. Between each vertebra there is a gel-like disc. The vertebra are held together by ligaments and muscles. The muscles run up to the skull and down into the back and to the front of our chest. Arteries and fascia intermingle between the nerves, bones, muscles, and ligaments, too. So what is actually causing the pain you feel?

What does an assessment look like?

To assess neck pain, we’ll take a thorough history, asking lots of questions about your day to day activities and when the pain started, what makes it better or worse. Then we’ll look at your body, how it moves, and how those movements relate to the area of pain. Finally we’ll do a hands on assessment where certain structures like muscle and joint are assessed for health, flexibility, strength, and dysfunction. Some hands on assessment involves making you feel better right away!

How do you know what’s wrong?

Symptoms such the location of pain, the type of pain you have (sharp, tingling, achy), and what makes the pain better or worse line up with specific structures of the body. For example, throbbing around the eyebrow area along with sensitivity to the jaw indicate involvement of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. By isolating this symptom cluster, treatment of this specific muscle would be on the top of the list of ways to address pain.

In other cases, the changes to your movement ability indicate the areas involved. In a hands on assessment for a patient who can’t turn their head to the right, we might isolate the facet joint between the 4th and 5th cervical vertebra is limited in motion based on what part of the normal head turn is restricted.

After finding out what is causing your pain then we look at WHY this occurred in the first place so we can solve the underlying problems. Limited strength in the back might be forcing the neck to overwork, so relieving the neck pain and strengthening the back simultaneously might be the right treatment in this case.

If there are symptoms that don’t line up or are indicative of needing additional testing, we’ll be sure to discuss that, too.

What is causing your pain? Let’s get it diagnosed so we can treat it!

What is treatment like?

After diagnosing the contributing factors to your neck pain, a treatment plan is developed. Treatment will include hands on, manual therapy to release tight structures, soften muscle, release nerve tension, and improve joint mobility as well as exercises or movements to strengthen weak areas and improve joint movements. An exercise program just for you will be developed and updated as we work together to make sure we’re on the right track.

Can you fix my neck?

Almost all neck pain is resolvable!

One of my favorite things about the work I do is helping people realize that the pain they fear is going to change their life forever is actually something we can resolve. If you’re taking pain medication regularly and want another option, I would be honored to help!

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