Neck pain generally involves discomfort located within the region of the cervical spine, starting at the base of the skull and ends at the level of the shoulders. Using self-management, acute neck pain generally has a good prognosis, with most people recovering within one or two weeks. Neck pain that lasts 3 months or longer is considered chronic and may benefit from physiotherapy treatment. This often reduces your ability to participate in the activities of daily living, affecting your quality of life. Below we will explore the causes and types of neck pain, and discuss what physiotherapists can do for you.
What causes neck pain?
- Sustained postures – Sustained neck positions, sleep positions, or sitting at a desk for long periods of time.
- Psychological stress
- Injury as a result of traumatic events including car crashes or sports.
- Medical conditions such as cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and meningitis may also cause pain or discomfort in the neck.
Types of neck pain:
The neck is a complex structure containing bones, muscles, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, and organs. Neck pain can present in any one of these structures. Some common structures this can present in are:
Bones – The neck contains 7 bones which are called the cervical vertebrae. Bone pain is usually felt deep within the neck and can present as dull or sharp. This pain may restrict movement of the neck, and cause stiffness or weakness.
Joints – The vertebrae in the neck are connected together by facet joints. For many reasons, these joints may wear and tear, and become swollen or inflamed, leading to pain. This pain may feel dull or sharp and could present with stiffness, burning or aching.
Muscles – There are lots of muscles within the neck that can become painful due to many of the causes previously mentioned. Muscle pain is commonly felt as a dull ache, however, may also be felt as a sharp pain. It often causes stiffness and reduces the neck’s range of motion.
Nerves – Nerve pain occurs when the nerves exiting the spinal cord, out the side of the spine become irritated. It is often a sharp pain that presents with weakness and numbness which can spread throughout the upper limb.
How can physiotherapists help?
Assessment and diagnosis:
Since neck pain has a wide variety of causes and presents in a variety of different structures of the neck, physiotherapists will undertake an assessment using clinical tests and measures, allowing them to accurately identify the cause of your pain. Once a thorough assessment has been conducted, they can provide you with an individualised treatment plan to manage the pain and improve your ability to carry out daily tasks of living which have been affected.
Physiotherapists will be able to use a range of manual therapy techniques such as manipulation of joints, soft tissue releases of the neck, and joint mobilisation. These techniques can help to reduce pain as well as decrease any tension, allowing for better movement of the neck.
Physiotherapists can also provide you with exercises that improve the range of motion of the neck as well as strengthening exercises that can help you to manage your pain and increase the capacity of your neck and shoulder.
Not sure where to start?
Here is a questionnaire you can do to assess how serious your neck pain is and the impact that it has on your ability to manage the activities of daily living.