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Chronic neck pain: Physiotherapy treatments

Are you suffering from a pain in the neck? I’m not talking about your latest electricity bill, or an annoying co-worker, I’m talking good old fashioned inescapable neck pain. Over the course of a lifetime there is a 50% chance you will suffer from neck pain at one point or another.[1] This risk can be heightened by a number of factors: your age (another great part of getting older), your sex (women are more likely than men to experience neck pain[2]) and the type of work you do (I’m looking at you, computer using people). For most Australians neck pain is something that usually lasts 6-8 weeks, but for around 30% of people, neck pain can become a chronic source of pain, limiting the activities you can take part in and disrupting sleep patterns which in turn can cause other problems.[3] Neck pain is one of the most common complaints physiotherapists deal with and there are a number of scientifically proven exercises and treatments to ensure your neck pain doesn’t turn chronic.

What are common symptoms associated with neck pain?

To put it simply, the spine and neck are very complicated regions of the body and can cause a variety of symptoms and finding the right Northern Beaches physio is essential to pinpointing the cause. In all there are seven cervical vertebrae acting as building blocks of the spine in the neck and surrounding the spinal cord and canal. Within the neck, structures include the neck muscles, arteries, veins, lymph glands, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, oesophagus, larynx, and trachea. This means that neck pain can present a wide array of related symptoms, requiring a skilled musculoskeletal physiotherapist to identify the source. Neck pain can culminate in the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Numbness, weakness and tingling in the arms and fingers
  • Surrounding muscle pain, commonly the shoulders
  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Sore throat
  • Even loss of bowel or bladder control

What are some of the causes of neck pain?

Neck pain just doesn’t come about for no reason, it is usually related to a specific issue with another part of the body, or begins as a direct result of an injury or overuse problem. When you first discuss neck pain with your physio they will conduct an analysis of your body in order to pinpoint the root cause in order to create the most effective program to treat it. Musculoskeletal physiotherapists and General practitioners have highlighted the following as the most common causes of neck pain[4]:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Neck strain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Cervical Spondylosis
  • Poor posture
  • Pinched nerve

Is your phone being a pain in the neck?

As more people spend their days scrolling mindlessly through Facebook, the average number of hours spent on our phones is increasing rapidly, with Australians clocking up 10 hours of mobile screen time PER DAY.[5] Did you know that within 5 minutes of waking up over one third of Australians have already checked their mobile phone at least once, not even dinner time puts the brakes on mobile usage with around 70% checking their phones while eating with family and friends?[6] They are some seriously crazy numbers. We’ve even had to give it a name, text neck. Staring down at your phone causes your neck extensors to stretch unnaturally causing them to weaken over time and can add nearly 30kg of pressure to the back of the neck. This unnatural forward head posture has also been shown to inhibit breathing capacity which can lead to migraines and cause brain fog throughout the day. If you also happen to have a job that requires you to stare at a computer screen or you spend a few hours a day watching television, your risk of suffering neck pain increases.

What are the best treatments for neck pain?

Your Dee Why physio will most likely recommend a multi-modal approach to tackling your neck pain, with studies showing that a combined process is the most effective at shortening the duration and intensity of the pain.[7] A combination of strength and mobility exercises, postural and ergonomic changes, hands on treatment and dry needling have all been shown to be effective and are utilised by musculoskeletal physiotherapists around the world.

If you have been suffering from a sore neck, or any of the symptoms outlined above, you are only increasing your chances of your neck pain becoming chronic and affecting other areas of your body and daily life by not having it treated. It can be easy to shrug off neck, shoulder and back pain as a normal part of life, work and getting older, but nobody should have to put up with chronic pain. You might not be able to get rid of every pain in the neck in your life, but speaking with your Northern Beaches physio can certainly go a long way to getting rid of the actual pain.

 

[1] Hogg-Johnson S, Van der Velde S, Carroll L, Holm L, Cassidy D, Guzman J, Côté P, Haldeman S,
Ammendolia C, Carragee,14,15 Eric Hurwitz E, Nordin, M, Peloso P. The Burden and Determinants of Neck Pain in the General Population: Results of the Bone and Joint Decade 2000–2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders. Eur Spine J. 2008 April; 17(Suppl 1): 39–51.

[2] Ostergren PO, Hanson BS, Balogh I, Ektor-Andersen J, Isacsson A, Orbaek P, Winkel J, Isacsson SO; Incidence of shoulder and neck pain in a working population: effect modification between mechanical and psychosocial exposures at work? Results from a one year follow up of the Malmö shoulder and neck study cohort. Malmö Shoulder Neck Study Group. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2005 Sep; 59(9):721-8.

[3] Mehanical Neck Pain and Cervicogenic Headache. Neurosurgery 2007: 60:S1-21–S1-27

[4] Bot SD, Van der waal JM, Terwee CB, et al. Incidence and prevalence of complaints of the neck and upper extremity in general practice. Ann Rheum Dis 2005:64(1):118–23.

[5] Australian consumers spending more than 10 hours of every day on their digital devices’, 2016, Ernst & Young, www.ey.com

[6] Mobile Consumer Survey 2017: The Australian Cut, Deloitte, https://www2.deloitte.com/au/mobile-consumer-survey

[7] William J. Hanney WJ, Kolber MJ, Schack-Dugre J, Negrete R, Pabian P, The Influence of Education and Exercise on Neck 
Pain. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2010;4(2):166-175.

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