If you deal with ongoing neck pain, you've probably tried several lifestyle changes and maybe even some over-the-counter pain relievers to keep the pain at bay. Sometimes these treatments work, but when they don't, you should not just give up! It's a good idea to make an appointment with a physical therapist. Contrary to popular belief, they do not just help athletes and people recovering from surgery. They can also help manage chronic pains, such as neck pain. Here are some of the treatments a physical therapist may administer or recommend.
Ultrasound Therapy and TENS
Your physical therapist will either begin or end your session with one or both of these treatments, both of which are meant to relax the muscles and calm down the nerves that are sending pain signals to the brain. Ultrasound therapy simply involves the application of sound waves to the area to be treated — in this case, your neck. The sound waves will help ease tension in your muscles and relax your nerve endings. Another treatment that works similarly is TENS, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. This treatment involves placing electrodes on either side of your neck. Mild electrical impulses will be delivered through these electrodes. You'll feel some vibration and contraction, but no pain, and when the treatment is over, your neck pain should be reduced.
Extension, Flexion, and Lateral Stretches
Your physical therapist will also guide you through a set of exercises to stretch your neck. You will flex your neck, which means lowering your chin forward, and you will also extend your neck, which means bending your head back towards your back. You'll also flex to either side, bringing your ears towards your shoulders. Your physical therapist will also give you advice for doing these stretches at home whenever your neck is feeling tight.
Chin Tucks and Cobras
Another goal of physical therapy will be to strengthen the muscles of your neck. Stronger muscles will be better able to support your head, so your neck is not put under as much strain on a daily basis. Two common strengthening exercises are the chin tuck, which has you really bend and hold your chin against your neck, and the cobra, which has you lie on the ground and use your neck muscles to raise your head.
Every case of neck pain is different, so your physical therapist may recommend some exercises that are different from these. However, this is a good overview of what you can expect. After a few appointments, your neck should be feeling a whole lot better.