I've had pain in my low neck area for three months now. I'm thinking I need to so something, but what? Is there an exercise program I should be doing? What do you advise?
Neck pain is a common reason people visit their doctor. Neck pain typically doesn't start from a single injury. Instead, the problem usually develops over time from the stress and strain of daily activities. Eventually, the parts of the spine begin to degenerate. The degeneration can become a source of neck pain.
Knowing how your neck normally works and why you feel pain are important in helping you care for your neck problem. Patients are often less anxious and more satisfied with their care when they have the information they need to make the best decisions about their condition.
There are many possible causes of neck pain. A medical diagnosis is needed before a specific program can be prescribed. Your doctor will make every effort to ensure that your symptoms are not from a serious medical cause. Once it's clear that you have a mechanical problem, you may be advised to use over-the-counter pain relievers and to keep active.
Mechanical neck pain tells us the problem is within the joints and/or soft tissue structures. It is not caused by tumor, infection, or fracture. But if patient education and motion exercises don't help, you may need to see a physical therapist. In a recent study of patients with mechanical neck pain (with and without accompanying arm pain), manual therapy and exercise had much better results than advice and range-of-motion exercises.
Manual therapy and exercise includes joint mobilization or manipulation, muscle energy techniques, and stretching. Home exercise programs are prescribed based on impairments identified during the exam. Impairment areas identified often include dysfunction of the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and ribs.
Physical therapists are working hard to narrow down what treatment works best with subgroup of patients. In the past 10 years, the results of research studies in physical therapy have changed the ways low back pain patients are treated. Additional studies may do the same for patients with neck pain.