When is Neck Pain Serious?

Photo of Plastic Spine Model

Neck pain is usually non-serious and resolves within 2-6 weeks. Rarely, neck pain should be considered an emergency, or needs further treatment before seeing a physical therapist. Here are some situations where you should seek immediate medical attention:

Trauma or Accident: If your neck pain was caused by a slip or fall, bumping your head, or a motor vehicle accident, you should have a medical evaluation to make sure there is not a fracture or instability before seeing a physical therapist.

Numbness in the Hands or Fingers: Hand or finger numbness may be a sign that a nerve is pinched. Physical therapy can help with this, but if numbness is severe or progressing, you should see your physician.

Sudden or Progressive Weakness of Your Arm: Nerves in the neck supply the muscles of your arm, hand, and fingers. Sudden or increasing weakness of the arm may be a sign that your nerve is pinched, and further medical evaluation is needed.

Loss of Bowel or Bladder Control: Sudden changes in bowel or bladder control can be a sign that there is pressure on the spinal cord, and is considered an emergency condition. See a physician right away if you experience these symptoms.

 

Photo of Plastic Spine Model

 

What Causes Neck Pain?

Treating a patient with neck pain

Cervical spine pain can be the result of a single event or trauma, or the result of a combination of factors including poor posture, declining physical fitness, and/or repetitive activities, including faulty lifting, bending, or twisting. Previous injury and family history may also be a contributing factor.

Neck pain is usually non-serious and resolves within 2-6 weeks. Sometimes, neck pain is accompanied by headache or pain between the shoulder blades or down the arm. Physical therapists at Saunders Therapy Centers can get to the root cause of your pain, and provide immediate treatment to lessen the intensity and duration of your pain. In some cases, you only need one or two clinic treatments. Common causes of neck pain include:

Muscle Strain: Sleeping without proper support, over-working during exercise, or turning your neck the “wrong way” can cause a temporary but very painful strain. You may not be able to rotate, flex, or extend your neck fully. Pain can be in the neck or between the shoulder blades.

Cervical Osteoarthritis: This is a wear-and-tear condition, also called neck arthritis. As we age, the space between vertebrae in the neck decreases, and excessive friction can cause pain. Even though structural changes are inevitable with age, pain is not! Improving posture and strengthening the stabilizing muscles is key to help with this condition.

Cervical Degenerative Disc Disease: Though scary-sounding, this condition is closely related to osteoarthritis, in that it is a wear-and-tear condition. Disc degeneration typically causes a low-level chronic neck pain with occasional episodes of more severe pain. Treatment is similar to osteoarthritis and involves postural training, strengthening, and manual therapy.

Facet Joint Syndrome: The joints between each vertebra can become slightly misaligned or inflamed, causing pain. Manual therapy techniques can restore normal motion and decrease inflammation.

Cervical Disc Herniation: Between each vertebra is a structure called the “disc”, which can bulge or herniate, placing pressure on nearby structures including the nerves. More severe disc herniations can cause arm and hand pain and weakness. Cervical traction and manual therapy techniques can be helpful. Surgery is not always necessary, so physical therapy should usually be tried first.

How Can We Help?

Saunders Therapy Centers therapists are highly skilled at evaluation, and will know the specific techniques to use depending on the source of your symptoms. When your pain improves (often rapidly!), almost all neck pain patients benefit from postural restoration and exercise to restore normal muscle length and strength to prevent a future episode.

 

Therapy For Neck Pain

Neck Pain Treatment Technique

Neck pain can be debilitating, and it’s tempting to rush to an orthopedic doctor to get help. But wait – physical therapists are skilled at evaluating and treating most neck pain problems. What’s more, they are trained to assess whether your condition requires more diagnostic evaluation. Seeing a physical therapist first saves valuable time and expense for the majority of neck pain conditions. At Saunders, our approach entails:

Musculoskeletal Evaluation: A thorough evaluation will be performed on your initial visit to assess for possible muscle imbalances, myofascial restrictions, joint dysfunction, and nerve involvement that may be contributing to your symptoms.

Manual Therapy: Our therapists all have advanced training in manual therapy which is a hands-on approach that addresses restrictions in the soft tissue, myofascial system, and/or the spinal joints to facilitate proper alignment and healing.

Spinal Stabilization and Exercise: Studies have shown that deep muscles which control spinal movement are inhibited with your first episode of neck problems. These muscles do not automatically return to proper function when the pain subsides, leaving you vulnerable to further injury. You will be shown specific exercises to activate these muscles properly, decreasing the likelihood of future neck pain episodes.

Postural Education and Body Mechanics: Our physical therapists will teach you body awareness and you will learn mechanics and postures that decrease load and stress on the spine, relieving your neck pain.

Neck Pain Treatment Technique

Physical Therapy Neck Pain Techniques

Physical therapists can immediately decrease neck pain with manual therapy, myofascial techniques, postural training, and restoring muscular length and strength through specific exercise.