Physical Therapy for Neck Pain

Physical Therapy (PT) is often prescribed to people with chronic neck pain to promote free range of motion. Sometimes simple home interventions are enough to treat cervical disc disease (an abnormality in one or more discs that cause neck pain). However, it is helpful to see a physical therapist who can help the sufferer stretch and strengthen his neck and vertebrae, improve his posture.

A physical therapy specialist attempts to eliminate neck pain discomfort through passive or active PT interventions. Depending on the specific diagnosis and pain severity, the therapist may prescribe a combination of neck stretching exercise, neck strengthening exercises, aerobic conditioning and trigger point exercises (if needed). Passive PT intervention such as deep tissue massage, cold or heat application, electrical stimulation or ultrasound may be used prior to exercise. One should follow the suggested exercises for at least 6–8 weeks to help prevent neck pain from returning.

How does physical therapy for neck pain work?

Neck pain is most commonly triggered by poor posture habits. However, recurrent neck pain can also be accompanied by stiff joints, upper back pain or shoulder blade pain. Certain neck flexibility and stretching exercises can smoothen the range of motion in affected cervical (neck) joints, and consequentially relieve the stiffness that complements neck pain.

Specific neck strengthening exercises can also help an individual maintain improved posture, which helps eliminate recurrent flare-ups of pain. Certain aerobic exercises to increase blood flow to the neck muscles and soft tissues of the upper back can also be included in the therapy program.

Commonly prescribed exercises for neck pain

There are several exercises a physical therapist uses to relieve stiffness, restore normal function and strengthen the area of the neck.  Some of the commonly prescribed exercises for neck pain include:

  • Cervical Flexion to increase neck movement by moving the head forwards in sitting.
  • Cervical Side-flexion for active neck movement by bending side to side (side-flexion) in sitting position.
  • Cervical Rotation for active neck movement by turning side to side (rotation) in sitting position.
  • Chin Tucks (Cervical Retraction) for strengthening of the stabilizing neck muscles by drawing the chin gently in sitting position.