Chronic and recurrent neck pain is estimated to affect approximately 30 percent of the population each year, with women generally more greatly impacted than men (APTA.org.). Neck pain can be the result of a recent traumatic accident, such as whiplash or a concussion following a car accident or sports injury, or it can stem from long term problems such as spinal abnormalities. Contributing factors that increase the risk of neck and upper back pain include poor posture, repetitive lifting/reaching, and performing computer/office work for long hours, sedentary lifestyle behaviors, smoking and obesity.
In the short term, these risk factors can lead to joint stiffness, decreased muscle flexibility, and decreased muscle strength and endurance. If allowed to progress, neck pain and dysfunction can eventually lead to osteoarthritis, degenerative joint disease, or degenerative disc disease.
Dysfunction in the neck can present in a variety of ways, including but not limited to:
• Pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms or hands
• Reduced range of motion of the neck with difficulty looking up/down, left or right
• Weakness of the shoulder, arm, hand muscles
• Numbness/tingling into the neck, shoulders, arms or hands
• Muscle spasms
• Tight muscles
• Recurring headaches
• Difficulty sleeping due to pain
Feelings of ‘stiffness’ and inability to change position without pain
Neck pain is often described as:
Whether you are experiencing a new onset of neck pain or have been suffering from long term pain in the neck or upper back, consider choosing physical therapy as a way to treat the pain in your neck. Research supports the use of physical therapy treatments to address neck pain, which can often help reduce the need for surgery or use of pain medication for symptom management.
Physical therapists create individual treatment plans based on your specific presentation of pain and functional limitations. Interventions used to treat your pain may include:
• Modalities such as heat, electrical stimulation or ultrasound for pain relief
• Manual therapy
• Postural retraining
• Activity modification
• Gentle range of motion activities and stretching
• Therapeutic exercises to target strength and endurance of weak muscle groups
• Functional training to help you return to your regular lifestyle and activities
While physical therapy isn’t right for everyone, it can help address the underlying causes of your neck pain rather than masking the symptoms, which can help prevent future episodes of pain from occurring. If you would like to learn more about physical therapy, or if it’s the right choice for you, speak to your physician, or call the Marcus Daly Rehabilitation Center at 406-375-4570 to schedule an evaluation. You can also find more information online at mdmh.org and to learn in detail about all the services that physical therapists can provide at the American Physical Therapy Association’s website, APTA.org.