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Neck Pain: Recognize, Prevent and Heal

Neck pain felt in the back of the neck – the upper spine area, just below the head. When certain nerves are affected, the pain can extend beyond the back of the neck to areas such as the upper back, shoulder, and arm. It is estimated that neck pain affects approximately 30% of the US population each year.

Neck pain most frequently affects adults aged 30-50 years. Poor posture, obesity, smoking, repetitive lifting, office and computer work, and involvement in athletic activity are all risk factors for developing neck pain. The majority of neck pain episodes do not require surgery and respond best to physical therapy. Physical therapists design individualized treatment programs to help people with neck pain reduce or eliminate pain, regain normal movement, and get back to their regular activities.

Signs and Symptoms of Neck Pain

  • Inability to bend or rotate the neck

  • Difficulty looking up

  • Difficulty looking over the shoulder

  • Weak arm and shoulder muscles

  • Muscle spasms

  • Pain in the neck, upper back, shoulders, arms or hands

  • Numbness or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, or hands

  • Weakness in the arms

  • Increased pain when coughing, sneezing, reaching, or sitting

  • Inability to stand or sit up straight

  • Stiffness with movement

  • Tight muscles

  • Headaches

  • Inability to maintain one position for a prolonged period of time (standing, sitting)

  • Pain worse in the morning or evening

  • Sleep disturbances

How to Prevent Neck Pain

  • Maintain good posture (avoid slouching) at all times

  • Keep muscles strong and flexible

  • Use proper body mechanics when performing any stressful activity on the spine

  • Maintain a healthy weight

  • Stop smoking

  • Discuss your occupation with the physical therapist, who can provide and analysis of your job tasks and offer suggestions to reduce your risk of injury

  • Continue with a home exercise program following therapy

  • Be physically active

How can Physical Therapy Help

Recent research shows that physical therapy is a better treatment than surgery or pain medication for relieving many cases of neck pain. Physical therapy treatments often can help people avoid the need for surgery or medication altogether. The physical therapist will work with you to design a specific treatment program that will aid in your recovery and can help you return to your normal lifestyle.

Your physical therapist will work with you to:

  • Reduce pain and other symptoms

  • Improve posture

  • Improve motion

  • Improve flexibility

  • Improve strength

  • Improve endurance

  • Learn a home program

  • Return to activities


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