Neck and Upper Back Pain Relief

The neck and upper back get painful for two basic reasons: 1. A traumatic onset from an accident (motor vehicle, a fall or sports), 2. Persistent postural strain. In regards to a traumatic onset, the head and neck are vulnerable due to being unsupported in space and any kind of force which accelerates and then decelerates the head (whiplash effect) will strain the tissues and joints related to this area. In association with this effect is the neck has many specialized receptors monitoring the forces entering the neck and with a violent accident these can get misprogrammed. This can keep the neck muscles in a state of irritability and guarding as an ongoing situation. It is important to understand that this situation is not based exclusively on time for healing but more related to corrective actions directed at the misprogramming. This is one reason why the effects of an accident can linger for years if not treated properly. Physical therapy works to calm these hyperactive muscles and rebuild the postural support mechanism for long term relief.

The second large category of neck pain is related to ongoing postural strain. Behind this situation are imbalances between muscles in the front of the chest and neck and those in the back. Life is lived in front of us and so many of the muscles in the chest and neck become over dominant and the muscles in the upper back and neck often become longer and weaker. This commonly leads to the typical rounded upper back in many patients which is so characteristic as people age. Tied closely to this posture is a lifestyle or work style of sitting, computers, and video screens which pulls the head forward as an unaware effect. This pain pattern often has other influences as well with poor upper chest breathing habits which add further strain to the muscles in the front of the neck and chest and even stress from life. This situation, in all its different presentations, needs a comprehensive approach to change the muscle imbalances related to posture and respiration. Inclusive with this treatment is an education process for the patient related to posture, work stations, lifestyle habits and relaxation to break the postural imbalance cycle. Physical therapy is the profession that provides this comprehensive approach.

  • Neck pain
  • Radiculopathy
  • Disk herniation
  • Stenosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Facet syndrome
  • Myofascial pain
  • Postural imbalance/weakness
  • Rib dysfunctions
  • Arm numbness/tingling
  • Headaches

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FAQs

How do I know if my back pain is serious?

The pain you experience in your back may either be acute or chronic, depending on how it was sustained. Acute pain means that it lasts for a short time and is usually severe. Chronic pain means that it lasts generally three months or longer and it can either cause dull or severe persistent pain. The pain you experience is typically either rooted in your back muscles or the bones in your spine. If your pain is severe enough to hinder you from doing daily tasks, if it suddenly worsens, or if it has lasted longer than three months, then it is time to seek the help of a physical therapist.

How do I get relief from back pain?

You can treat your back pain with physical therapy. Physical therapy can address back pain by helping to improve your range of motion, strengthening the muscles in the affected areas, and using targeted massage to reduce tension. In many situations, working with a physical therapist to improve can significantly reduce the severity of your back pain, and may even help you avoid more invasive procedures, such as surgery.

What is the best physical therapy treatment for back pain?

Your physical therapist will design a treatment plan based on your specific needs. Your individualized treatment plan will incorporate the best methods possible for relieving your pain, facilitating the healing process, and restoring function and movement to the affected area(s) of your back. Your initial appointment will consist of a comprehensive evaluation, which will help your physical therapist discover which forms of treatment will be best for the orthopedic, neurologic, or cardiovascular condition you are experiencing. The main stages of your plan will focus on pain relief, which may include any combination of ice and heat therapies, manual therapy, posture improvement, targeted stretches and exercises, or any other treatment that your physical therapist may deem fit. While there is no singular method for relieving back pain, your physical therapist will make sure you receive the best treatments for your needs.

How do you relieve back pain without drugs?

While medication is easy, it only helps your pain subside for a short amount of time. Over time, certain drugs can cause some unfavorable side effects, and in some cases, they can be habit-forming. With NSAIDs, you run the risk of blood clots, heart attack, or stroke. With corticosteroids, you run the risk of cataracts, high blood sugar levels, and bone loss. Luckily, there is a much safer and healthier alternative to treating persistent back pain: physical therapy. At your initial consultation, your physical therapist will ask you several questions regarding your medical history, lifestyle, and painful area(s). This information will assist your physical therapist in creating the best treatment plan for you and your specific needs, so you can be provided with long-term results.