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Relieving Neck Pain and Tension Headaches With Physical Therapy

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

There are many different reasons for neck pain. The neck requires good alignment, proper movement, strength and stability to work correctly. The neck or cervical spine has to bear the weight of the head, which is around 10-12lbs (the weight of a bowling ball). With injury or prolonged poor posture (for example sitting at a computer), change in alignment, weakness and instability start to occur. This irritates the structures of the neck and can even impinge on the nerves exiting the neck, or the central canal protecting the spinal cord.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) states that approximately one-third of the population will experience neck pain in any given year. Neck pain can become severe if left untreated, and in some severe cases, surgical correction may even be needed. Neck pain is often associated with headaches as well. Many people self diagnose themselves with migraines when in fact they are suffering from tension headaches, a form of headaches that can be treated through manual therapy, Trigger Point Dry Needling, and activity modification.

Physical Therapy for Back Pain

"We prescribe many different ways to reset a muscle including applying mechanical pressure with a massage or lacrosse ball."

Why do I have neck pain?

There are a number of reasons why you may be experiencing neck pain. For most people, neck pain typically runs from the base of their skull to the top of their shoulder blades, settling in the back of the neck. The severity of the pain varies from person to person – some report feeling a constant dull ache, while others feel sharp and stabbing pains.

Our physical therapist has the best options to see the additional symptoms may also include:

  • Headaches

  • Muscle stiffness and tightness in the upper body

  • Inability to fully stand up or sit up straight

  • Discomfort and pain when remaining in the same position for too long

  • Loss of sleep due to pain and discomfort

  • Numbness or tingling in the neck and/or arm(s)

  • Arm weakness

The most common cause of neck pain is damage to the tissues or bone structures in the neck. This can be caused by a sudden injury or it may develop over time from repetitive overuse. However, certain degenerative conditions can also lead to neck pain.

Some common conditions that may be causing the pain in your neck include:

  • Injuries. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries resulting in neck pain. It is referred to as “strain” injury, due to the rapid back-and-forth motion that the head takes. Whiplash is most commonly sustained in car accidents or high-impact sport collisions, and it affects the soft tissues in the back of the neck.

  • Muscle Strains. Overuse can cause the muscles in the back of your neck to become strained. Even something as simple as sitting at your desk all day with your neck craned toward the computer screen can lead to a strain in your neck muscles.

  • Nerve Compression. If you have a herniated disc in your neck, the nerves that branch out from your spinal cord can become compressed. In some cases, nerve pain can even result in “radiculopathy,” which is a condition where pain extends from the neck all the way down to the hands and fingers.Nerves may also become compressed by surrounding muscles.

  • Joint Degeneration. Any joint in your body is susceptible to age-related erosion, and your neck is no exception. Conditions such as osteoarthritis can also reduce the cartilage between the vertebrae in the neck, which can result in moderate to severe pain.

  • Illnesses. Certain diseases and ailments can result in neck pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, or even cancer.

How does physical therapy help relieve neck pain?

Our physical therapists perform a thorough evaluation of your neck to determine your range of motion, strength, posture and alignment. Sometimes, where the pain is occurring, is not the source of the problem. Often a limitation in movement above or below the painful area is causing excessive pressure or poor function of the painful area. With gentle hands on therapy, special exercises and modalities such as ultrasound or electrical stimulation, we can relieve your pain, restore motion and get you back to activities quickly without neck pain.

Check out our Rolling Sequence Exercise to do at home


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