Neck Pain

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Common Causes of Neck Pain


Neck pain is often caused by excessive strain placed upon the neck muscles, ligaments and joints. The neck muscles work to keep the head in an upright position. When the head is tilted forwards due to poor posture the neck muscles need to work harder to keep the head upright. Sitting with the chin poking forwards also closes down the joints in the posterior vertebral column.

Muscle strain

When muscles are working for a prolonged period of time due to sustained posture or repetitive activity they can develop trigger points and spasm

Worn joints

As we age the normal process of wear and tear develops within the spine. This is known as cervical spondylosis. Cartilage between the bones becomes thinner and bone spurs can form. This may result in pain and stiffness in the neck

Nerve compression

Pain is felt in the neck and radiates down the arm. One may have associated numbness or weakness in the arm. This may be due to compression of a nerve that is exiting from the spinal column


Whiplash is caused by a sudden acceleration or deceleration of the neck often as a result of a motor vehicle accident. Ligaments and muscle undergo excessive strain resulting in tears in the soft tissue. Inflammation develops in the area causing pain and stiffness

Symptoms of Whiplash

  • Pain may sometimes only begin the day after the accident.
  • Widespread tenderness in the neck region.
  • Slightly increased temperature over the painful area.
  • Stiffness of the neck
  • Increased pain after long periods of rest or strenuous activity

General Advice for Treating Neck Pain

  • Maintain good posture by ensuring that one’s head and shoulders are in good alignment. The shoulder blades should be held back and down and ones chin should be tucked in slightly
  • Ensure that your workstation is set up correctly
  • Regularly take a break from sitting and stretch out the neck muscles
  • Apply a hot pack or ice over the painful area
  • Ensure that you have a comfortable pillow that is offering sufficient support to the neck. Aim to maintain the normal “S” shaped curvature of the spine
  • Gentle regular exercise such as walking is good for circulation, maintaining flexibility and relieving stress
  • If carrying heavy objects such as a hand bag or laptop bag try to minimise the carrying time or alternate carrying between both shoulders

Treatment Following a Motor Vehicle Accident or other Serious Injury

  • Depending on the severity of the accident and the patients symptoms the doctor or physiotherapist may refer the patient for X Rays to rule out a possible fracture of the spine
  • A soft collar may be used initially to alleviate some pain and allow the muscles to rest.
  • Within the first three days of the accident it is advisable to place ice on the painful area to minimise inflammation.
  • Ice can be placed for about ten minutes at a time several times a day.
  • Take anti inflammatory medication.
  • Visit your local physiotherapist.

Physiotherapy Treatment

Upon the initial consultation an evaluation will be done to determine the cause of the pain and determine a treatment plan.

Modalities that may be used during the treatment include:

  • Myofascial release techniques
  • Joint mobilisation
  • Neural mobilisation techniques
  • Electrotherapy such as interferential therapy or ultrasound
  • Kineseotaping
  • Exercise prescription


  • It is advised to do gentle active movements of the neck and gentle stretches.
  • Move the head laterally to each side and repeat ten times.
  • Move the head forwards and backwards and repeat ten times.
  • Look from side to side and repeat ten times.
  • Flex the neck to the side and apply gentle over pressure and hold for 20 sec.
  • Look towards each underarm and apply gentle over-pressure. Hold for 20 sec.
  • Gently roll shoulders forwards and backwards for a count of ten.