Neck pain is a common condition that can cause substantial pain and suffering. Neck pain is the 4th leading cause of disability worldwide, behind conditions such as low back pain and mental health disorders. On any given day, approximately one in 20 people will experience neck pain (1).

Most cases of neck pain are non-serious and do not require specific medical treatment, such as surgery.

The more common causes of neck pain include:

  • Muscle Strain – caused by overuse of the neck muscles, and result in issues such as chronic neck pain, headaches, and restriction in movement.
  • Cervical Spondylosis – resulting in nerve compression
  • Injury – such as whiplash.
  • A small percentage of cases (<1%), neck pain may be caused by a more serious underlying disease.

A GP and physiotherapists first job are to make sure a patient with neck pain does not have a serious underlying disease. Once this has been confirmed, guidelines recommended that patients are managed using non-invasive treatments, such as treatments provided by a physiotherapist.

How Can Physiotherapy Help?

Physiotherapy for patients with neck pain involves a thorough assessment of the problem, followed by treatment tailored to target the cause of the problem. A physiotherapist will:

  • Assess the patients range and quality of neck movement, and test muscle strength and endurance.
  • Assess the surrounding joints to determine whether a patient’s neck pain is caused by problems in other areas

Evidence-based guidelines for the management of neck pain recommend several treatment options (2).

These include:

  • Advice to remain active and stay at work 
  • Manual techniques,such as massage and joint mobilisation
  • Gentle stretching exercises
  • Strengthening of the muscles around the neck 
  • Advice on gradually returning to usual activities  

Patients are individuals, and so the choice of treatment from the above list will largely be determined from the assessment findings.


References:

[1] NCBI: The global burden of neck pain: estimates from the global burden of disease 2010 study.

[2] NCBI: Management of neck pain and associated disorders: A clinical practice guideline from the Ontario Protocol for Traffic Injury Management (OPTIMa) Collaboration.

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