Neck complaints that cause pain or restricted movement can be considered a cervical spine dysfunction, a condition most people experience at some point in their life.
Symptoms of cervical spine dysfunction can include pain with movement, restriction (most commonly rotation) with or without pain, muscular spasm/tightness, headaches, general fatigue and a feeling of having a ‘heavy head’. Cervical spine dysfunction can commonly refer pain to the top of the shoulders and between the shoulder blades. Clicking, cracking or grinding within the neck may also be present uring cervical spine dysfunction and is indicative of restricted individual joint movement. Neck problems may arise from positional problems such as prolonged poor posture or sleeping ‘funny’, muscle overactivity from stress and tension, or from traumatic events such as a car accident or sporting injury.
There are some more serious causes of cervical spine dysfunction such as pinched nerves and bulging discs which may cause severe neck pain or pins and needles, numbness and / or weakness in the neck, arms or hands.
What can you do?
If your neck is sore and you do not have any of the severe symptoms listed above, there are some simple things you can do to relieve discomfort.
– Keep moving: Although it may be a little uncomfortable, it is important to try to keep your neck moving as much as possible to avoid stiffness, but be sure to stop if you experience severe pain.
– Watch your posture: Be careful to keep your neck in a neutral position during sustained poses such as watching TV, reading or using the computer.
Stretches: Basic neck stretches may reduce muscle tightness.
Heat: A heat pack or hot water bottle on the area for 15-20 minutes at a time can relieve muscle tightness and spasm. Be careful not to burn yourself as gentle warmth is all that is required.
What can physiotherapy do?
Your physiotherapist will perform a thorough physical examination to rule out serious conditions and ascertain whether your cervical spine dysfunction is musculoskeletal in origin. They will explain the cause of the dysfunction, and what treatment will work best for you to resolve the situation.
Treatment will typically include a combination of hands on therapies. It may include soft tissue massage and gentle joint mobilisations to relieve muscle tightness and spasm and restore normal joint motionas well as an exercise program to stretch, strengthen and activate neck muscles. Your physiotherapist will also address other factors that have contributed to the onset of your neck problem such as poor office workstation set up, sleeping on an incorrect pillow, excessive stress, and working for too longwithout taking a break. By modifying or eliminating these additional factors, it is less likely that your neck pain will return and you will have strategies to manage your neck pain in the ling term.
Written by The Australian Physiotherapy Aoociation, published in “Physio 4 You”. September 2012