Physical Therapy Can Quickly Treat Common Causes of Neck Pain
Neck pain is one of the most common ailments in adults across the United States. While most cases are short term, some people experience chronic pain that persists for more than six months. This type of pain is especially distressing as it can significantly interfere with a person’s everyday life. According to Practical Pain Management, up to 70% of people experience neck pain at some point in their lives, and there are several common causes and treatments available for the discomfort. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most common types of neck pain, their causes and symptoms, and a few ways to avoid this pain.
The first step is to consult your doctor to determine the root cause of your neck pain. Your doctor can perform a physical exam to find the source of your discomfort. Your doctor will have you move your neck and assess its range of motion, muscle strength, and reflexes. During this exam, they will also ask you about any previous neck injuries, activities you perform that can affect your neck, and your work habits. The doctor may order imaging tests to find the exact cause of your pain and determine the extent of injury to the tissues in your neck.
Common Causes of Neck Pain
Because of its complexity, the neck is susceptible to injury. All of the bones and muscles in your neck support the weight of your entire head, including the airway, the voice box, the esophagus, and all of the nerves that supply the spinal cord. Just the head itself can average 11 pounds, all balanced on the top-most bone of your spine.
Common causes include:
- injuries, such as whiplash
- overuse resulting in muscle strain
- poor posture and a sedentary job, also called tech-neck
- nerve compression
While these can be very painful, there are various solutions to alleviate the pain and prevent it from recurring. If your discomfort persists for more than three months, it is probably a sign you need a medical evaluation to determine the root cause and treatment plans.
The diagnosis for neck pain is broad and may include a variety of conditions. Often, the patient’s symptoms can be indicative of a serious condition. A systematic approach is critical in this type of evaluation, allowing providers to determine a proper treatment plan and rule out potentially life-threatening conditions. A physician can quickly identify the underlying cause of neck pain by reviewing the patient’s medical history and identifying any red flags.
A physical examination and history of symptoms are crucial to a correct diagnosis. Advanced diagnostic tests are often necessary to find the underlying cause. For instance, X-rays are an important tool in identifying spinal degeneration, vertebral fractures, and certain types of tumors. They can also reveal if a specific type of therapy is required.
A thorough physical examination is vital to determining the cause of neck pain. A doctor will ask patients a series of basic questions about their pain, including where it originates, how severe it is, and what factors make it better or worse. A physical examination may include palpation, which can help detect any soft tissue abnormalities. Diagnosis of neck pain is critical in early treatment, as any delay in seeking treatment could lead to further complications.
When your neck pain lasts longer than three months, it is considered chronic. Various factors can cause this type of pain, including poor posture, repetitive movements, and disc-related problems. Unfortunately, most people will experience neck pain at some point in their life, but it usually subsides on its own within a week or two. However, if it continues for more than two weeks, it may be time to seek medical attention.
In most cases, patients with neck pain will not require surgery. Physical therapists and primary care providers often treat patients without surgical intervention. When the cause of this pain is unknown the clinician should assess the patient’s muscles, connective tissues, and nerves. Only in severe cases will spinal surgery or spinal injection be required. This is often the last resort treatment when conservative treatment fails to improve the patient’s condition.
Treatment Options for Neck Pain
Fortunately, there are several common remedies for neck pain. One of the most popular is taking a pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Other treatments include rest and applying ice or heat to the neck. If none of these remedies work, you may want to try low-level laser therapy. This procedure is highly effective and has many benefits and will usually resolve the pain in a few days.
Another way to alleviate neck pain is to improve your posture. One of the most common causes of neck pain is poor sitting and working posture. Many people sit with their chin forward, playing with electronics, or sleeping on their back. Make sure your workstation is properly set up so that you can sit correctly without straining your neck. If you use a computer, you should set the screen at an appropriate height so that you can maintain good posture at all times. Physical therapists can also give you several at-home exercises to strengthen your back and correct your posture.
Using nonsurgical treatments such as those mentioned above is the first course of action when it comes to treating neck pain. Medications and physical therapy are both effective at alleviating pain and promoting healing. Some patients opt for other nonsurgical treatment options, such as steroid injections or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Other treatment options include physical therapy care.
There is evidence that exercise programs help in the prevention of neck pain. The risk of developing new neck pain was significantly reduced in an exercise program compared to a control group. In addition, there are many recommendations for the use of ergonomic programs for neck pain prevention in clinical practice. Your healthcare provider can also give you more information about how to prevent neck pain.
A simple exercise to prevent neck pain is stretching the muscles around the neck. Doing this regularly will not only reduce neck pain but also keep your neck flexible throughout the day. Standing tall and stretching the neck muscles is a simple daily prevention technique that you can do at home or work. It only requires a few minutes a day and will help keep the muscles in your neck loose. Simply stand tall and exhale deeply. While doing so, slowly move your hands down toward the floor and breathe deeply.
It is vital to keep good posture while working or playing your favorite sport. Avoid slouching, neck hunching, or leaning forward, as these habits may pull your neck out of alignment and increase your risk of injury. Other symptoms of poor posture may include pain, numbness, or tingling in the arm. Poor posture can also cause cervicogenic headaches.
For long-term prevention of neck pain, try limiting screen time and reducing your phone use.