Emergency Physical Therapy Treatment for Neck Pain

Learn How to Self-Manage a Sudden Onset of Neck Pain

Neck pain is a common problem that many people face.  It can come on suddenly, and it can severely limit your neck range of motion (ROM) and make performing basic tasks almost impossible.

Physical therapy for neck pain can help you decrease your symptoms and improve your overall mobility.  One important component of your PT program for neck pain is to learn how to prevent future problems with your neck and to learn what to do if neck pain strikes again.

If you have developed a sudden onset of acute neck pain, there are a few things you should do to start to manage your pain.  By doing the right things early, you can quickly restore your neck ROM, decrease or eliminate your pain, and return to your previous level of function.

Don't Panic

If you develop neck pain, don't panic.  It can be very scary when moving your head and neck causes sharp pains, but most often these pains resolve within a few days. 

Occasionally, serious problems like a virus or tumor may be causing your neck pain, but these sinister lesions are rare.  Most likely, your neck pain is caused by a problem with the discs, joints, or muscles in your neck, and these problems are easily treated.

If your symptoms worsen over the course of a couple weeks and do not improve with motion and postural correction, it is recommended you check in with your doctor to rule out a serious problem.

Start Gentle Range of Motion Exercises

When neck pain suddenly strikes, you may initially want to keep your neck from moving.  But gentle ROM exercises are usually the best thing to help get you started on the road to recovery.

A simple progression of neck exercises including neck retraction and gentle rotation can help decrease your pain.   Monitor your symptoms and watch for centralization, which is when pain that is on one side of your neck moves to the center part of your neck.  Centralization of pain that occurs as you exercise is a good sign.

If performing neck retraction while sitting in a chair is difficult due to pain, you can try to perform the exercise while lying on your back.  Simply lie down with one pillow under your head, and gently push the back of your head into your pillow.  Again, monitor your symptoms for any changes that may occur as you exercise.

Maintain Excellent Posture

Postural neglect is one of the main common causes of neck pain.  Sitting in a forward head and rounded shoulder posture can put significant strain on muscles, joints, and discs in your neck. This can lead to pain.

When you have neck pain, it is important that you attain and maintain proper posture.  This means using a lumbar roll when sitting so your head stays upright and over your shoulders.  Practicing the slouch-overcorrect exercise can train your body to get a sense of what proper posture feels like.

Use a Cervical Roll in Your Pillow

It can be difficult to maintain proper posture when sitting, and lying down while resting and sleeping can be equally challenging when you have neck pain.

Using a cervical roll in your pillow can help you maintain the proper position of your neck while you are sleeping.  The cervical roll is a low cost support pillow that can fit in your pillow case.  It serves to maintain the proper position of your neck while you are lying down.

Your local physical therapist can help you locate a cervical roll and he or she can make sure you are using it properly.  You can also make your own cervical roll with a beach towel.

Get Help

If your neck pain lasts for more than a few days, you may need a little extra help to manage your symptoms.  A visit to your physical therapist can help you determine the best course of treatment for your neck.  Sometimes other treatments or therapeutic modalities may be necessary to help you control your neck pain.

Cervical traction may be a useful tool to help you decrease your pain.  If you benefit from neck traction in the clinic, an over-the-door traction unit can be used to help continue the benefits at home.  Ask your PT to help you obtain one.

It is a good idea to call your doctor if your pain is severe and worsening or is accompanied by significant arm weakness, changes in your balance, or other neurological changes.

If you have developed an acute and sudden onset of neck pain, following these simple steps can help you quickly decrease your pain and improve your overall mobility.  Your physical therapist can also help you learn how to keep the pain away.

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