Injury and postural problems are the main cause of neck pain. Physiotherapists can identify the reasons for your neck pain and provide proven, effective treatment.

What causes neck pain?

Your head is heavy and balanced on a narrow support of seven bones called cervical vertebrae. The vertebrae are separated from each other by discs, stabilised by joints and ligaments, and moved by muscles. Because the neck is so mobile, it is easily damaged. Injury and postural problems are the most common causes of neck pain. Issues such as arthritis or the degeneration of the discs can also cause pain.

Neck injuries

Neck injuries most often result from motor vehicle, sports, or occupational accents. Damage may occur to vertebrae, joints, nerves, discs, ligaments, and muscles. A common neck injury is the acceleration-deceleration injury, or whiplash, where the head is thrown forward or backward.

Posture

Bad posture can cause neck pain; ligaments are over-stretched, muscles become tired, and the neck joints and nerves are put under pressure. Slouching your shoulders with your head pushed forward, sleeping with your head in an awkward position, or working with your head down for long periods, will all tend to cause or worsen neck pain.

Advice to help and prevent neck pain

Posture

Think tall: chest lifted, shoulders relaxed, chin tucked in, and head level. Your neck should feel strong, straight, and relaxed.

Sleeping

A down pillow or polyurethane moulded pillow is best for most people. Avoid sleeping on your stomach. Your physiotherapist will advise you.

Relaxation

Recognise when you are tense. You may be hunching your shoulders or clenching your teeth without realising it.

Work

Avoid working with your head down or to one side for long periods. Frequently stretch and change position. Your physiotherapist will show you how.

Exercise

Keep your neck joints and muscles flexible and strong with the correct neck exercises. Your physiotherapist will assess for tight or weak muscles and show you specific exercises to treat your situation.

How physiotherapy can help

Physiotherapists will be able to determine the source of your neck pain and treat it. They may use:

  • Mobilisation
  • Manipulation
  • Functional and rehabilitative exercises
  • Encouraging normal activity
  • Postural assessment, correction, and advice
  • Relaxation therapy
  • Laser, ultrasound, electrotherapy, and heat treatment
  • Massage

Manipulation can be an effective treatment for neck problems, but may not be the best option in every situation. After a thorough examination, your physiotherapist will discuss treatment options with you. Your physiotherapist will carefully check your neck before manipulating it to see if other methods, such as mobilisation, would be preferable. Your physiotherapist can also offer you self-help advice on ways to correct the cause of neck ache, such as ergonomic tips for work and in the home, adjusting furniture, relaxation, and exercise.