One of the most commonly prescribed treatments for degenerative disc disease in the neck is physical therapy. After degenerative disc disease (DDD) has been diagnosed, a physician usually will initiate a course of conservative treatment, which may include pain medication and other methods. The patient also is likely to be referred to a physical therapist, who will provide training to help improve overall health, as well as guidance to manage specific symptoms through exercise, stretching, weight training, and other low-impact physical activity.
Although the neck pain, tingling, numbness, and muscle weakness associated with symptomatic DDD may make it difficult to move, it’s important to remain as active as possible when attempting to manage DDD symptoms in the neck. One of the reasons DDD causes symptoms is because the intervertebral discs no longer are able to contribute to spinal stability as well as they once were, which transfers excess stress and strain to other anatomical components. Exercising to strengthen the muscles of the neck and upper back can better prepare these anatomical elements to endure that extra stress.
In addition to helping a patient strengthen surrounding muscles, the goals of physical therapy for degenerative disc disease in the neck include:
- Educating patients on the principles of stretching
- Educating patients about posture and ergonomic principles
- Accelerating the stages of healing, with a focus on reducing pain and the inflammatory cycle
- Preventing future occurrences
- Managing physical activities that exacerbate symptoms with behavioral modification
Naturally, the closer a patient is able to adhere to a physical therapist’s instructions, the better. However, if a patient finds that he or she is simply unable to sustain the exercises, stretches, and other therapeutic activities prescribed, it’s important to let the therapist know so that another course of action can be formulated. Furthermore, if chronic, debilitating symptoms of degenerative disc disease in the neck persist, the patient should consult with his or her doctor or spine specialist to determine whether continued physical therapy is the right course of action.