Types of Neck Pain and How to Treat It

24th Jul 2018

Posted by Sara Zuboff on

Types of Neck Pain and How to Treat It

With our ongoing obsession with smart phones and computers, neck injuries and cervical pain is on the rise. Forward head syndrome is just one type of neck injury that can lead to pain and loss of function. And while there are various types of neck injuries, physical therapy remains a patient’s best option for improving chronic pain and reducing the risk of recurrence. In addition to being effective, physical therapy offers patients access to modalities that offer an alternative to oral pain medication which may cause debilitating side effects.

The Characteristics of Neck Pain

Neck pain can be caused by various conditions or injuries, but the pain is usually found in the back of the neck, specifically the upper spine area, below the occipital area of the head. If certain nerves are triggered, neck pain can also radiate to the surrounding areas of the upper back, shoulder and arm. Currently, up to 30% of the U.S. population suffers from neck pain. Neck pain can have diverse causes, such as:

  • Sports Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Whiplash
  • Radiculopathy
  • Osteoporosis
  • Forward-Head Syndrome
  • And more…

While it’s true that neck pain can happen to anyone, there are certain risks and specific groups who are more likely to suffer an occurrence. For example, women over the age of 30 are more likely to suffer from neck pain than men. Other factors increase the risk of developing chronic neck injury including: poor posture, obesity, repetitive movements, occupational tasks and certain athletic or lifestyle activities.

Recurrent neck injury can lead to difficulty performing job tasks like talking on the phone or working on the computer as well as lifestyle activities like driving or playing sports. The good news is that most episodes of neck pain do not need surgical intervention to get relief. Most patients respond well to physical therapy which utilizes modalities that can not only provide improvement in pain but also help patients regain normal range of motion, movement and function in their day-to-day activities.

The quality of neck pain can vary, with patients describing their pain as

  • Sharp
  • Dull
  • Stabbing’
  • Throbbing
  • Tingling
  • Radiating

In addition to pain, cervical injuries and conditions can lead to stiffness and difficulty moving the head. Also, neck pain can lead to a whole host of symptoms that can negatively impact a patient’s quality of life, including:

  • Difficulty rotating the neck, looking up or looking over the shoulder
  • Weakness in arm and/or shoulder
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain in neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, hands
  • Tingling in the neck or radiating into the shoulders, arms or hands
  • Inability to maintain neutral posture
  • Stiffness with movement or feeling head and neck are stuck in position
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping

How to Treat Recurrent Neck Pain

Reduce pain and other symptoms: In the beginning, it is necessary to adjust or modify a patient’s everyday activity in order to allow the muscles of the neck to rest and begin to heal. In addition to rest, there are specific modalities that will help acute neck pain including:

  • Moist Heat: Moist heat remains a popular modality to treat neck pain because it’s so effective without the need for excessive treatment time. Hot packs are a great tool because they come with a hot pack contoured for specific areas of the body, like the neck.
  • Ultrasound therapy: From treating neck pain caused by arthritis or from an injury, ultrasound therapy is one of the best modalities to deliver targeted and effective treatment. The Sonicator 740X ultrasound device comes with three different sized applicators (1 cm, 5 cm, 10 cm) which allow practitioners to tailor treatment to their patients unique needs. The Sonicator 740X can treat both smaller areas like trigger points to larger areas affected by diffuse or radiating pain.
  • Electrical Stimulation: Electrical stimulation delivered in the form of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has been found to be an effective treatment for neck pain. A study published by the Journal of Clinical Medicine Researchfound that a single, intense treatment of TENS significantly reduce pain in 73% of study participants. What makes TENS so useful as part of a physical therapy regimen for patients with different types of cervical pain is it can be used alone, simultaneously with ultrasound therapy as part of a combination unit or for patient’s use at home with a portable unit.

Postural Training: Once symptoms of neck pain have been addressed, focus of physical therapy can shift to any postural deficits or weaknesses that contributed or caused the neck condition or injury. With the use of a Cervical Range of Motion Assessment Device (CROM), a practitioner can evaluate:

Patient education is key in this phase of treatment along with the careful use of therapeutic exercise and stretching to help improve motion, flexibility and strength for the neck and surrounding areas.

  • Range of Motion: In order to restore normal movement of the neck, the physical therapy regimen will include passive movements that the practitioner performs to loosen stiff joints along the spine along with active stretches and exercises that can be used at home or in the workplace to improve the patient’s range of motion. Not only will improved range of motion increase a patient’s ability to perform tasks like driving, but it will help decrease pain.
  • Flexibility: In addition to stretching techniques that will be used as part of treatment and a home exercise program (HEP), a practitioner may also utilize a traction table or advise their patient to use a home cervical traction device to help reduce compression of the vertebrae in the neck which will aid in flexibility of the cervical spine.
  • Strength: When treating neck pain patients, strength training will focus on stabilization of the neck to improve the patient’s ability to maintain a neutral alignment to the cervical spine which will help to reduce pain as well as lower the risk of recurrent injury.
  • Contact Us Today

    We can direct you to the right pain-relieving modalities to help your patients with neck pain. Contact us today and we’ll find the right therapeutic device or equipment easily, so you can get back to doing what you do best, treating patients. Call us today at 1-801-770-3328.