Physical Therapy As A Nonsurgical Treatment Option For Neck Problems

Neck problems don't only cause neck pain. Disc herniation and other conditions of the spine can cause symptoms including upper-back pain, headaches, poor posture, upper extremity weakness, and tingling or numbness in the fingers, arms, and hands. In fact, data indicates that 15 percent of Americans suffer some kind of neck pain. Fortunately, physical therapy can help with many types of cervical spine problems, particularly if you prefer a noninvasive treatment approach to manage neck pain.

Degenerative Disc Disease

While cervical degenerative disc disease can cause pain and stiffness of the neck, physical therapy treatment helps slow or prevent progression of the disease. A physical therapist will work with you to strengthen certain muscles, increase range of motion, and improve your neck posture. Although physical therapy can't reverse degenerative changes in the spine, treatment can help to relieve pain and improve your quality of life.

Cervical Degenerative Joint Disease

Depending on the severity of your cervical degenerative joint disease – also known as cervical facet syndrome or facet arthritis – treatment may include physical therapy to improve:

  • Joint mobility and range of motion

  • Posture and spinal alignment

  • Restore joint function

A physical therapist will teach you stretches and strengthening exercises in addition to the correct upper body posture and proper body mechanics to keep from overloading the facet joints in the cervical (upper) spine. Facets are small joints between spinal vertebrae that contribute to the flexibility and stability of the neck.

Strengthening the muscles in your back and abdomen decreases stress on the neck as well as on the cervical discs and spine. In addition to therapeutic exercises, a physical therapist may use cold therapy, ultrasound, and/or electrical stimulation to decrease pain and inflammation.

Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Restricted upward movement of your head can be a sign of cervical spinal stenosis – narrowing of the spinal canal, which causes compression of the spinal cord and nerve roots. Other symptoms may include stiffness in the legs and gait and balance problems that may lead to falls. In severe cases, the condition can interfere with signals from the legs to the brain .

Although surgery eventually is necessary in some cases, your doctor may recommend physical therapy treatment as a first step. A physical therapist will assess your gait and watch for other signs, such as weakness or pain in your neck, shoulders, or arms, that your spinal stenosis is getting worse.

Your physical therapist will develop an individualized exercise program that focuses on strengthening specific muscles, increasing flexibility, and reducing pain. He or she will also instruct you on the proper exercise techniques and practice them with you.

Ruptured Cervical Disc

The force applied to your neck if you lift something too heavy or as the result of an injury or other trauma to the area can rupture a cervical disc, which may pinch spinal nerves or cause inflammation. Repetitive motions that certain occupations require can also wear out discs and cause symptoms including neck and upper back pain, muscle spasms, and weakness and pain in the arms, shoulders, and hands.

Physical therapy helps strengthen the neck and follows surgical intervention for a ruptured, or herniated, cervical disc. However, a ruptured cervical disc often will resolve on its own, but the healing time varies from weeks to months.

For more information, visit a clinic such a Robert Volski & Associates Physical Therapy.


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