Physical Therapy for Neck Pain & Headache

What Is Neck Pain?

Neck pain is excruciating pain that is felt in the upper spine area right at the base of the head. Neck pain can extend beyond the back of the neck to the upper back, shoulders, and arms when certain nerves get pulled or affected. It can be caused due to various reasons ranging from poor posture to sudden trauma such as a fall, sports injury, or a car accident. It usually affects adults aged 30 to 50 years, however, with times rapidly changing, neck pain has been a common complaint among the youth as well. Poor posture, obesity, smoking, improper lifting technique, office, and prolonged computer work, and lack of athletic involvement are some of the common causes of neck pain.

Physical Therapy for Neck Pain

What Causes Neck Pain?

People suffering from neck pain have difficulty performing daily tasks such as driving, walking, playing sports, or even turning their heads without pain. Neck pain can be managed, even cured with the help of physical therapy. The customized physical therapy treatments depending on the individual’s medical history and cause of pain, help patients reduce or eliminate pain, regain free range of motion and resume their daily activities stress-free. The pain felt in the neck is described as a sharp, stabbing, dull, aching, throbbing pain with a tingling sensation.

The type of neck pain is dependent on the severity of the injury, the location of your symptom, and the trigger points involved in the affected region. Neck pain causes the inability to bend or rotate the neck, difficulty looking up or over the shoulder, weakened arm and shoulder muscles, and muscle spasms.

The most obvious symptom of neck pain is pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms, or hands. It causes weakness in the arms and may induce a tingling sensation or numbness in the neck and the spinal area. Neck pain may increase pain felt during coughing, sneezing, sitting, or standing due to the strained muscles. Neck pain instills a feeling of stiffness when trying to move and tightness in the muscles. It is responsible for headaches that are worse in the morning or at night. It may cause insomnia due to the discomfort caused by the pain. Your physical therapist conducts a comprehensive pain assessment to locate, diagnose and treat the neck pain.

How Physical Therapy Helps With Neck Pain?

Physical therapy has proven to improve recovery rates and reduce pain and stiffness. It helps improve head and neck range of motion by developing dynamic strengthening of the neck and its supporting musculature. Physical therapy entails physical therapists teaching tips and tricks and developing strategies to prevent pain from recurring.

Some common physical therapy techniques used to tackle neck pain and subsequent headaches are neck stretches and exercises, core strengthening, aerobic activity, aquatic exercise, Graston technique, manual stretching, and posture correcting exercises.

Stretching exercises help train the muscles attached to and around the cervical spine such as chin tuck that involves looking forward and gently pulling the chin straight back up. It relieves the muscle tension around the jaw and shoulders. Core and back strengthening exercises provide the endurance to the weakened muscles due to fatigue and stress. Aerobic exercises improve blood flow and respiratory strengthening by making hearts and lungs work harder for the duration of workouts such as cycling on an inclined bike, or swimming using a snorkel to reduce neck movements. Aquatic exercises aid in relieving muscle tension and stiffness through buoyancy and wave propagation. The warm water used in aquatic therapy helps muscles and joints relax by inducing a calming effect.

The DOs and DON’Ts

Physical therapy is optimum for people suffering from neck pains and headaches with a few exceptions. One needs to thoroughly assess and discuss with their doctors the best way to get relief from neck pain. Sometimes, it may be a symptom of a bigger problem that might require surgery and physical therapy could worsen the problem instead of alleviating it. Physical therapy is not recommended for people suffering from chronic pain if there is significant spinal instability. Some people have an unstable cervical spine that isn’t suited for exercise, for example, with people suffering from fractured vertebral bone, or in case of spinal degeneration. These cases require spinal stabilization before beginning physical therapy to prevent potential injuries.

Physical therapy is unideal for people suffering from neck pain if the underlying cause is an infection or tumor, such as in the case of a cancerous tumor causing neck pain would not improve with exercise, in fact, it may only worsen the situation.

One needs to be mindful that healing takes time and the recovery rate varies from person to person depending on the type and severity of their ailment. It is prudent to rest the painful area by avoiding activities that worsen the pain. Your physical therapist may advise you to avoid prolonged bed rest as movement may decrease pain and stiffness. You may need to buy a memory foam pillow and soft couches that are designed to improve your posture reducing neck pain and headaches.

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Article Author Details

Samantha Davis