Many people experience neck pain for many different reasons. Whether it is an acute injury, a muscle strain or poor posture, neck pain can be debilitating and excruciating. It is a main cause for missed time from work, school and recreational activities. Neck pain can be treated many different ways and one of them is, Physiotherapy.
Physiotherapists are highly trained to treat neck pain. Neck pain treatment is a very specialized area, since it is the part of the spine closest to the brain. There are many different techniques that physiotherapists use to maintain safety, relieve pain and rehabilitate neck injuries.
What are some causes of neck pain?
The neck is a very sensitive area and can be prone to injuries. The vertebrae and the muscles protecting them are smaller in the neck area and easier to injure. Neck pain can be caused by a number of things including, but not limited to; disc disease, whiplash, neck strain or sprains, infections and pinched nerves. Some people can even develop arthritis in the neck area. Congenital malformations of the spine in the neck area can also cause neck pain. Whatever the cause, neck pain can be very debilitating due to the need to move the head in many directions.
With acute injuries such as whiplash, the head is “whipped” in a back and forth or side to side fashion. This can be an acute trauma and require immobilization before treatment can even begin. It occurs in car accidents, sports injuries, bike accidents and other moving collisions. It occurs when the body stops moving suddenly but the head continues to move in the original direction and then snaps back to the body.
In disc disease, the cushions between the tiny cervical or neck vertebrae start to “break down” and are unable to hold the weight of the head as well as it did before. They can start to “bulge” out of the sides of the vertebrae or completely dissolve and then the vertebrae begin to rub together with movement.
Neck strains or sprains and pinched nerves usually occur with normal daily life and poor body mechanics at work, home or at play. These can range from mild to severe, but are easily treated with physiotherapy.
Some of the infections that can cause neck pain are; meningitis, tuberculosis and osteomyelitis. In meningitis, the spinal cord becomes infected with either a bacteria or virus and can travel up the spine to the brain. Usually, the first symptom of this infection is the patient cannot put their chin to their chest without severe neck pain. This is a very serious condition and first needs medical attention. Towards the end of the illness, the doctor will order physiotherapy to help the patient recover. The other infections are not as serious, but with osteomyelitis the patient may need weeks or months of antibiotic therapy since the infection is inside the bones in the neck and very hard to penetrate.
What are some types of neck pain?
There are two types of neck pain; acute caused by an injury and chronic caused by many factors. Regardless of the type of neck pain, both signal that treatment is needed to prevent further damage or injury. Here are the two types of neck pain explained:
- Acute Neck Pain – This type of neck pain is caused by a sudden injury to the muscle groups in the neck. It can also be an injury to the ligaments and tendons in the neck area This can be caused by an accident, poor body mechanics or sleeping with the neck in a bad position. An infection called meningitis can also cause acute neck pain. The pain is usually sharp and stabbing with movement, stiffness and may be accompanied by headaches.
- Chronic Neck Pain – This is caused by Degenerative disk disease, pinched nerves from old untreated injuries and certain types of arthritis. This type of pain feels like shooting pains and may even radiate down the arms, into the chest and down the back. You may have chronic headaches that go from the forehead down to the upper back, which are caused my muscle tension.
How is neck pain treated?
The two different types of neck pain are sometimes treated very differently depending on how the neck pain occurred. If it is an acute injury such as; whiplash, the neck must be immobilized immediately to prevent further damage. If it is a mild injury or chronic neck pain, physiotherapy can usually begin right away. With infections, the neck pain will usually go away with treatment.
Neck pain treatment with physiotherapy is usually tailored for the injury and can include methods outlined below:
Hot and Cold Application – At the beginning of therapy, the physiotherapist will apply hot and cold to relax the neck muscles and relieve inflammation.
TENS– (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator) This unit sends tiny electrical impulses to the nerves surrounding the neck pain area. It helps to relieve pain by interrupting pain signals to the brain and actually shutting down the pain receptors in the area.
Traction – A brace is placed on the neck and attached to weights. The neck is gently pulled to stretch the muscles and “re-align” any misplaced vertebrae. This technique can actually relieve any pressure on damaged discs in the neck area and may be used long-term.
Massage and Mobilisation – The therapist may perform periodic or daily massages to the injured muscles and mobilisation the spine while working on certain muscle groups in the area. They then rotate the areas that they work on at each session to allow for complete healing and minimize pain.
Exercises and Range of Motion – After the initial therapy is over and the neck begins to heal, the therapist will begin to restore range of motion to the neck. They take their hands and slowly move the neck into various positions. They then give the patient exercises based on range of motion to perform during therapy and at home. Sometimes, assistants called Restorative Aids will help patients with range of motion in added sessions.
Neck pain treatment with physiotherapy is very important to heal neck injuries and restore full movement of the neck after an injury has occurred. With acute injuries, immobilization is important until the neck can be completely evaluated so the spine or brain does not receive further damage. If you have neck pain, it is important to see a physician right away and they will refer to physiotherapy for proper treatment. With physiotherapy, neck pain can be successfully treated and good body mechanics taught to help you prevent further injuries and get on with normal life.