Physical Therapy for Neck Pain

Physical therapy for Neck Pain treatment is a popular option for those with neck pain, both acute and chronic. Evidence supporting the use of physical therapy for chronic neck pain is limited and often confounded by it being used as an adjunct therapy to conservative neck pain treatment such as analgesic or NSAID medication. Acute neck pain appears responsive to physical therapy to a larger degree in the short-term although the reasons for this have not, as yet, been fully explained in the available medical literature. One study appears to show little benefit over and above chiropractic treatment or simple educational tools in reducing the incidence of low back pain using the McKenzie method of physical therapy (Cherkin, et al, 1998).

It may be that there are differences between methodology within physical therapy that affect the comparison of the treatment as a whole with other treatment modalities. Similarly, the incidence of low back pain is often connected with different variables to that of neck pain, making it essential to justify physical therapy on the basis of studies treating specific conditions and experienced pain.

Physical therapy for neck pain


Physical therapy can consist of mobilization and manipulation of the body, which may help relax tight muscles, strengthen muscles, improve circulation, and facilitate healing. Often if an injury is acute and there is severe pain present a patient will move awkwardly and adopt, unconsciously, an altered, braced, posture which can lead to muscle cramps, fatigue, and neck pain. Physical therapists may be consulted during the evaluation and diagnosis of a patient’s condition as well as helping to treat diseases and injuries of the musculoskeletal system. Sometimes physical therapists provide expert opinion on how well a patient is able to perform their daily activities at home or at work in order to meet criteria allowing them to leave hospital or return to employment.

Physical Therapy Questionable?

As health-care plans often only cover physical therapy when prescribed by a patient’s own physician it is increasingly under the microscope to evaluate the treatment’s effectiveness and efficacy compared to other forms of therapy. Freburger (et al, 2005) found that of those patients presenting with spine disorders for evaluation at a spine clinic 38% were referred to a physical therapist for treatment. Interestingly, patients who were older or male were less likely to be referred, and those who were more educated were more likely to obtain a referral. Physical therapy appears to be recommended at increasing levels by specialists as opposed to general practitioners, which leads to questions over the attitude towards the treatment across the health-care profession. Understanding the available treatments and persisting if a particular therapy appears warranted is of paramount importance for patients suffering from chronic neck pain in order to maximise their chance for a successful outcome.

Next read: What is Physical Therapy?