What Causes Chronic Neck Pain? And Can A PT Help?

Your head weighs 11 pounds or more – as much as a bowling ball! – and keeping it in the right position is hard work. Fortunately, your neck is a collection of bones, joints, muscles and nerves designed to be strong and stable. But small and large problems can lead to pain in the neck as well as in the head, shoulders, arms and hands.

Most neck pain goes away in just a few days or maybe a few weeks, but persistent pain may be a sign of a medical condition that needs treatment. If you have pain and/or stiffness that makes it hard to turn your head, stabbing pains in one or more spots, pain, numbness or tingling into either or both arms, soreness or tenderness of any kind that is not going away, it may be time to consider treatment.

The cervical spine starts at the base of your skull and involves seven vertebral segments called C1 through C7, each of which can have many different kinds of problems that cause pain, including disc herniations, disc degeneration, bone spurs, arthritis, muscle strains and/or ligament sprains.  You should get immediate medical help if you have any of these symptoms, which could be signs of a severe neck injury or condition:

  • Trouble holding onto or lifting items
  • Problems with balance, coordination or walking
  • Severe pain that makes daily activities impossible
  • Nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and/or dizziness

As many as 15 percent of us experience neck pain each year, according to research, but it certainly seems like more based on our experience. In many cases, poor posture is the primary cause of neck pain.  Learning better ways to sit and stand can alleviate this kind of pain. Your pillow can also cause neck pain. A pillow that is too hard or too soft, or providing the wrong amount of support, can cause nighttime neck issues that persist during the day.  How your desk or workstation is set up can also cause and/or contribute to your neck pain not going away.

How Physical Therapy Helps Neck Pain

If you are experiencing neck pain, please get help now. Research published last year in the journal Physical Therapy from the American Physical Therapy Association shows that getting physical therapy within 4 weeks of first experiencing neck pain means a better outcome for you, an easier job for your physical therapist and less cost for whoever is paying.  Your physical therapist uses special manual techniques to reduce your pain along with modalities that might include ultrasound, electrical stimulation, mechanical traction and cold laser.  You will also be taught exercises that will benefit you for years, including:

  • Neck stretches for flexibility to improve range of motion and elasticity in the cervical spine
  • Neck strengthening to maintain better head and neck posture
  • Aerobic (cardio) conditioning to increase blood flow to the muscles and soft tissues

Don’t let neck pain derail your plans. Get help from a physical therapist. The sooner you get treatment the quicker you can get on with your life doing the things you enjoy!