Neck pain affects about one in three people every year, with women affected more often than men. Chronic neck pain can be difficult to treat, but physical therapy can help. Physical therapists use both passive and active treatments on neck pain patients that help relieve pain, improve function, and reduce the risk of further neck pain.
Goals for Physical Therapy
If you set goals for your physical therapy before you start. Discuss your medical history, current neck problems, and any other pertinent information with your therapist. After an evaluation, your therapist can help you come up with some realistic goals for therapy.
The main goal of physical therapy for most neck pain patients is to reduce pain. Other goals could include reducing stiffness, improving range of motion, strengthening your neck muscles, and improving your posture.
Passive treatments are ones your physical therapist does on you that require minimal or no participation from you. These treatments are aimed at reducing inflammation and pain so you get some relief and are better able to perform exercises and stretches.
Common passive treatments for neck pain include ice to reduce inflammation or heat to relax the muscles. Many therapists do massage therapy on neck pain patients as well. Massage helps loosen tight muscles and helps relieve pain. Some patients also benefit from other treatments to reduce pain, such as ultrasound and electrotherapy.
Active treatments require you to move your body and perform certain movements and exercises. Active treatments can address a variety of issues, but they're particularly helpful for improving neck muscle strength, flexibility, and posture.
Neck stretches and exercises are the most common form of active physical therapy for neck pain patients. Your therapist will show you how to do several neck stretches, such as chin tucks. These stretches and exercises help to align your spine properly. Improved posture helps reduce pain and minimizes the risk of further injury or pain. They also help strengthen the neck muscles to provide support for the cervical spine.
Follow your physical therapist's exact instructions for active exercises. Your therapist will show you exactly how to perform the exercise and tell you how many repetitions and how often you should do the exercise. You could injure yourself and end up with more pain if you stretch or exercise improperly or too much.
If you experience chronic neck pain, talk to your doctor about whether physical therapy would be a safe and effective treatment for you based on your neck condition and your prior medical history.