Cervical pain (neck pain) is common. Anywhere from 6-22% of the population will have symptoms of neck pain this year. Some instances of neck pain will have a single occurrence, but most will be cyclic with periods of active pain and remission. Potential pain generators include bones, muscles, ligaments, facet joints, nerves, and intervertebral discs. Diagnoses can include an array of problems including strains, whiplash, arthritic conditions, radicular pain, and many others. One can have neck pain that stems from a certain event such as a fall or a car accident. Pain can also come from a less obvious cause such as repetitive strain injury from sitting at a computer desk, or having poor posture while reading a book.
Understanding symptoms can be challenging. Neck pain can occur at a specific spot, with particular movements, or cover a broader area. Headaches and dizziness can be caused by poor movement patterns and/or stiff cervical segments. Some people have what feels like muscle spasms between their shoulder blades, but is actually pain that is referred from facet joints in the neck. Neck pain can also have virtually no symptoms in the neck, but have weakness or paraesthesia referred down one or both arms in the form of tingling, numbness, and a deep aching feeling. In some cases, injuries in the neck can have symptoms as diverse as paraesthesia and weakness in the face or legs, breathing difficulties, and changes in bowel and bladder function.
Physical therapists are experts in movement related injuries and can help to correctly diagnose the pain generator and develop a strong program for how to treat neck pain. They would also screen for potentially dangerous diagnoses that would need to be addressed by other medical specialists. Testing includes assessment of range of motion, strength, joint mobility and stability testing, strength, reflexes, and functional screening. The physical therapist would then lay out a comprehensive and individualized plan of care to address one’s progress from an acute injury to return of full function. Cervical physical therapy would include manual therapy, specific neck stabilization exercises, postural and ergonomic education, body mechanics, and detailed education on your condition and prognosis secondary to our clinical findings. The goal is not only to get the patient back to their normal function, but to help with long-term management of future occurrences.