Physiotherapy for Neck Pain
What Is Neck Pain?
Whether it’s after a few too many hours spent hunched over your desk at the office, or after waking up and discovering a sharp pain from sleeping strangely, most of us have experienced neck pain at one time or another. It can range from being a mild nuisance to a full blown problem that interferes with your ability to go about your day.
Neck pain is very common, and typically occurs at the back or side of the neck. The pain may radiate into the shoulder. It may also lead up into the head, causing even more discomfort by creating a headache. The symptoms are likely to also include pain, stiffness, and difficulty turning your head.
Myths Regarding Causes of Neck Pain
I’m sure you’ve heard one of the most common causes is poor posture. Many of us spend hours per day leaning over looking at our phones or slouching as we type on our computers for our 9-5. Perhaps you’ve been told your head is meant to spend most of its time upright, balancing its weight on our spine. It’s also common to worry that if we sit with our head and shoulders propped forwards or leaning down for too long, the muscles and ligaments that support our naturally forward facing head position become strained and tired. This overly structural understanding of the human body is broadly categorised as ‘movement pessimism’; the belief that there are right and wrong ways to sit, stand, and move. Thankfully, this narrative of human health is not correct! At Sycamore Health, we consider ourselves ‘movement optimists!’
It’s true neck pain is sometimes correlated with prolonged static head positions - think sitting in the front row of the cinema or sleeping in a strange position. But the remedy here isn’t complicated, and it’s a mistake to assume that you’ve done damage to some structure/s in your neck!
Age has also been proffered as another potential cause due to the discs and bones of the neck becoming worn over time. Again, there is very little evidence to support this.
However, a few things are important to remember when it comes to neck pain:
Posture is poorly correlated to pain
(O’Sullivan et al., 2011). Pain is complex and involves a number of factors including physical anthropometrics (physical variation between people), psychosocial factors and physical activity. Those with forward head postures are no more likely to have neck pain (Richards et al., 2016). Perfect posture doesn’t exist and neck pain is more than simply physical loading on the spine.
Sitting in a flexed posture is not hard on the neck!
Studies that look at spinal loads and muscle activity show insignificant differences between upright and slumped positions (Caneiro et al., 2010). In fact, sitting erect can actually increase spinal loads (Rohlmann et al., 2001). So relax! Seriously. Sit however feels comfortable.
You were made to bend your neck!
That’s what they were designed to do. Humans have been bending their necks for as long as we’ve had necks! There’s a lot of outrage in the media about "text neck" (bending your neck when texting) (Wilson, 2018), but where’s the outrage against bending your neck playing chess, reading the paper, knitting, writing love letters, realising you stepped in dog poo, and pretending not to see people at the shops?
Our bodies can adapt!
This is how people can bench press 200kgs. Our bodies respond well to progressive loading. Think about sports that place ‘high’ loads on the neck (cycling, heading a soccer ball, headstands, golfing, etc.). Your neck is stronger than you think and can adapt over time and become resilient.
Causes of Neck Pain
We like to think of neck pain using the ‘pain cup’ analogy. If you’re a cup, we can think of contributors to your pain as liquid in the cup. The analogy says that if your cup overflows, you experience pain. When you book in with us, we will listen to your story and perform a thorough physical examination. This tells us two things: if you have something serious going on requiring some specific medical intervention and it also helps us identify possible contributors in your pain cup.
Common causes of neck pain include things from poor sleep, to poor mental health, false beliefs, inactivity, high stress, unhelpful movement ‘habits’, fear and anxiety and a host of other factors.
Another possible cause is injury. A muscle pull or strain in or around the neck or sudden injuries such as whiplash can cause ongoing muscle pain. Whiplash (from car accidents for example) refers to injuries caused by a sudden and powerful back and forth movement of the head, similar to the cracking of a whip. This may damage the soft tissues in the neck and lead to neck pain throughout recovery.
How Can Neck Pain Be Prevented?
Here are some useful strategies that you can use to prevent muscle pain:
Take frequent breaks.
Whether it’s from scrolling through your phone or writing reports on your computer, remember to get up, move around and stretch regularly. This will help to give your muscles a break and keep them relaxed. Remember, motion is lotion!
Regularly exercise your neck.
There are a range of simple exercises you can do, even if you’re stuck sitting at a desk. For example you can set a timer to remind yourself to stretch your neck. First with your head looking down for 20 seconds, to each side for 20 seconds, and looking up for 20 seconds. Roll your shoulders and loosen up. It will take less than 2 minutes and you will feel the benefits.
Make sure you are getting good sleep
Stick to a sleep schedule, avoid caffeine and nicotine before bed (caffeine up to 8 hours before, and nicotine can wake with withdrawal symptoms), avoid alcoholic drinks before bed (it robs you of REM sleep), avoid large meals and beverages late at night, relax before bed (have a pre-bed routine), and have a dark, cool, and gadget-free bedroom.
Avoid over-exposing the neck to physical stressors
Rapid exposure to some activity that you are not prepared for can cause neck pain. In general, we want to slowly increase the loads on our neck to allow time to adapt to them!
How is Neck Pain Treated?
The causes, prevention and treatment of neck pain (and pain in general) are interrelated. This is because humans aren’t purely physical or structural things like machines or cars. We are better seen as ecosystems with a multitude of co-influencing variables.
As mentioned above, we need to conduct a thorough assessment to identify possible contributors to your neck pain. Once we’ve identified some of your potential contributors, we can go through options for recovery. Broadly speaking, these involve either reducing the contributors in your pain cup (protecting to desensitise), or building a bigger cup (exposing to build capacity)!
Acute neck pain may be managed with anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, or with the application of heat to help relax muscles.
Physiotherapists will frequently manage neck pain with manual therapy, and provide advice for individualised lifestyle changes and exercise strategies to promote healthy movement and function.
MAKE A CALL
How Sycamore Health Can Help
Our friendly, qualified physiotherapists will work together with you to help you to identify the root cause of your neck pain and plan for pain management and helpful strategies to address the problem at its cause.
There are many benefits to choosing Sycamore:
- Two Convenient Locations in Morayfield and Sippy Downs.
- Easy online bookings: we offer a straight-forward online booking system so that you can book your appointment in seconds, no matter the time of day.
- Same-day appointments: we understand that sometimes you need to be seen by our team as soon as possible, so we keep a number of appointments each day for those who need help urgently.
- Private treatment rooms: our treatment is provided one-on-one in private rooms to make sure you are comfortable.
- A range of physiotherapy services: we offer a range of physiotherapy services, including hands-on treatment, custom home exercise programs, gym-based rehabilitation and tailored advice.
- Qualified, highly-trained physiotherapists: our team of physiotherapists are all highly-skilled and fully qualified.
- Customised therapies: we know that your situation is unique and will tailor your program and exercises to suit you.