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How to Prevent Neck Pain, Strains and Injuries

We have all experienced waking up with neck pain after a long sleep in an awkward position, and it’s not uncommon to come home after a long day and have some soreness or pain in our neck. Neck strains and injuries are very prevalent, and neck pain can be rooted in many causes. 

Posture can impact how your neck feels and can even impact shoulder function. Neck pain can notably affect people who have jobs where they are working at a desk or on their phones for a majority of the day. Sleeping “wrong” and whiplash are also common causes of neck pain. Even headaches can result from neck pain.  

Orthopaedic Hospital of Wisconsin physical therapist Kristen Riekkoff, PT, DPT, ATC, discusses neck strains and injuries and how to prevent and treat neck pain. 

Anatomy of the Neck 

The neck consists of seven vertebrae (bones) and many muscles that join the head to the shoulders and chest. Between each vertebra there is a disc that acts as a cushion between the bones. These discs allow for mobility in the neck. There are nerves, arteries, and veins that also run through the neck, down the arms, and into the hands. The neck is a vital part of the body. It supports the head, protects your spinal cord (where your nerves are/come from), and allows for lots of movement. Due to the multitude of structures that make up the neck area, many things could be causing your neck pain. 

Symptoms of Neck Pain or Other Injury in the Neck Region

  • Pain
  • Achiness
  • Tightness
  • Headache 
  • Pain traveling into the arm/hand
  • Stiff neck/ limited neck range of motion
  • Pain/tightness/limited range of motion when driving and checking your blind spot
  • Muscle spasms

Tips to Prevent Neck Pain

It is important to maintain flexibility and motion in your neck. Try to avoid straining your neck by looking down or staying in one position for an extended time. Taking breaks when working at a computer or on your phone is a great idea. Frequent breaks will allow you to take time to move your neck and do some light stretching throughout your day. Applying ice and or heat following neck pain can be helpful to ease the pain. Normally, ice is used for the first couple of days and then heat. Gently massaging the area can be beneficial to decrease your pain as well. 

What to Expect in Physical Therapy for Neck Pain?

Your physical therapist will start by asking specific questions about what you are experiencing, how often, and when. They will ask many questions to get the entire picture of what you have been going through so they can get a good grasp of it all. They will then perform a thorough examination that will look at your posture, range of motion, strength, the flexibility of your muscles, how the many joints in your neck are moving, and may perform some special tests. Your physical therapist will then take all the information gathered from your conversation with them and their physical exam to conclude what may be causing your pain. They will then create a treatment plan specifically for you. 

Treatment May Include:

  • Education on what could be causing your symptoms
  • Exercises to increase range of motion
  • Exercises to work on strengthening your neck, upper back/arm muscles
  • Stretching
  • Manual therapy
  • Address muscle coordination
  • Exercises for muscle endurance

Your physical therapist will be able to correctly choose which treatment options are best for you and they will walk you through each exercise they want you to complete. Your physical therapist will set the duration and frequency of your exercises and make sure to have all of them available to you either on paper or electronically. With each session, your PT will continue to assess your symptoms and adjust your treatment plan needed. By the end of your time together, you should have decreased pain and have increased your function.

If you are looking to address your neck pain, our talented physical therapists are here to help. Make an appointment today and get started on your journey to becoming pain-free. 


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