Neck (Cervical) Pain Physical Therapy

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Physical Therapy as a Neck Pain Treatment

The decision to use physical therapy as a neck pain treatment is often among the first attempts at relieving the pain and restoring a patient’s quality of life. Increasing the neck’s range of motion with specific exercises can help to ease and in some cases, completely eliminate the pain.

Neck Pain Treatments –Physical Therapy

Physical therapists can offer patients suffering from neck pain conservative pain management strategies using exercises and therapies to reduce neck tension and to build strength in the cervical spinal muscles. Physical therapy can be combined with specific exercises to be done at home, allowing patients a consistent neck pain treatment program.

Is Physical Therapy as a Neck Pain Treatment Right for You?

Before beginning any type of neck pain treatment, a thorough examination and spine health assessment must be made to determine the root cause of the cervical spine pain. This evaluation may include exercises to check range-of-motion and flexibility in the neck. According to specific physical therapy guidelines, after a cervical evaluation and examination, a diagnosis and prognosis are confirmed, and then a plan of care is created for the patient.

Physical therapists treating patients suffering from neck pain work to increase range-of-motion and restore proper posture. Alignment exercises are demonstrated in the office, with or without a therapy band to assist. The therapist may use a mirror with the patient to confirm good form.  The therapist may also work to strengthen the muscles in the shoulders and upper back to release tension due to over compensating for the weaker or injured neck muscles. The patient may be instructed to alternate heat and ice packs on the injured area several times per day for pain relief.

Electrical stimulation may be used in the office or with a TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) at home. During this physical therapy process for neck pain relief, the therapist attaches electrodes to the neck area and sets the voltage, adjusting as needed. The unit works by gently stimulating the cervical spine nerves for pain relief. The length of time the TENS unit is used during visits varies depending on the patient’s needs and response to treatment. Some physical therapists may recommend a patient use a TENS unit at home in between office visits for even greater impact.

Deep tissue massage may also be offered during physical therapy as a neck pain treatment. The massage works into the deep layer under the skin, releasing tension from the muscles and tendons surrounding the neck.

Cervical traction may be used as a neck pain treatment during physical therapy. Cervical traction relieves pressure by opening up the neck and allowing space between vertebrae. Depending on the patient’s plan of care, the treatment may be done at home with a cervical traction pump or pillow. The patient must follow all instructions from the therapist before using at home physical therapy techniques in order to prevent further neck injury.


At-a-Glance: Physical Therapy as a Neck Pain Treatment

  • Stretching and neck strengthening exercises
  • Exercises to correct cervical spinal alignment
  • Physical therapy for neck pain relief focuses on correct posture
  • Deep tissue massage may aid the physical therapy treatment plan for neck pain by relieving tense muscles surrounding the cervical spine

Health tips for Physical Therapy

  • Be prepared for the first physical therapy appointment with as much detail about the neck pain as possible
  • Follow all instructions from the physical therapist, including proper form and at-home neck-care
  • Complete all daily strengthening exercises to promote cervical spine healing
  • Alternate heat and ice packs as instructed to reduce cervical spine inflammation

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