Neck pain will eventually strike nearly two-thirds of our population at some point during their lifetime. For some, the discomfort is short-lived and relatively minor. Others live with the potentially debilitating effects of chronic neck pain or recurring symptoms.

If you are living with neck pain, you are likely far too familiar with how pain, stiffness, and general discomfort can interrupt your life. Neck pain can alter your daily routine, derail your workout, and keep you from participating in many activities you once enjoyed.

You don’t need to let neck pain keep you from doing what you love. Understanding the four most common causes of neck pain, and your treatment options can be your first step to living pain-free.

Disc Herniation

The bones in your neck (vertebrae) are separated by discs filled with a gel-like substance. These pillow-like structures are protected by a tough outer layer called the annulus. Excess strain, injury, and aging can rupture the annulus and weaken the ligaments holding discs in place. This type of damage is commonly referred to as a herniated, slipped, or ruptured disc.

Cervical disc herniation is one of the most common causes of neck pain. If the bulging disc puts pressure on your nerves or spinal cord, you may experience neck pain, recurring headaches, arm pain, or shoulder pain. However, a mild herniation may not cause symptoms. Depending on the location of the herniation, you may also notice pain, weakness, tingling, or numbness in your arms or hands.

Health care providers often recommend anti-inflammatory pain medications or steroid injections to alleviate the symptoms of a herniated disc. However, these treatment options are not universally effective. This may be why so many doctors also recommend physical therapy to strengthen muscles and decrease pain. As a result, your physical therapist will likely recommend a combination of joint manipulation, dry needling, or McKenzie Method® exercises to alleviate your discomfort.

Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is a degenerative disorder that causes the discs between your vertebrae to compress. When the discs compress, eventually, the protective cartilage lining the disc can wear away. Cervical spondylosis does not usually cause significant disability. However, it may be important to know that the resulting changes in your spine can cause spinal cord or nerve root compression.

Some of the many symptoms of cervical spondylosis can include neck pain and stiffness that could radiate to your shoulders, limitations turning your head, and a grinding sensation when your neck moves. In rare cases, cervical spondylosis may also cause difficulty with balance, leg pain, and loss of bladder or bowel control.

Although surgery can relieve pressure on affected nerves, most often, it is not necessary. An experienced physical therapist can help alleviate your symptoms. This can possibly stall disease progression with corrective exercises in addition to dry needling to alleviate pain and improve joint mobility,

Neck and Shoulder Blade Pain

The mechanisms causing pain in the neck, shoulder, and arms are not always easy to identify. American neurosurgeon, Dr. Ralph B Cloward, first mapped areas of the spine shown to cause referred pain in other areas of the body. This pain is believed to be caused by involuntary spasms secondary to the source of the pain. This information (Cloward Signs) is still used today for the diagnosis and treatment of neck and shoulder blade pain. Particularly, pain that appears to involve the upper shoulder blade, pain felt at the top of the shoulder, and arm pain ending at a point above the elbow.

Of course, the treatment your physical therapist recommends will depend on the cause of your neck, shoulder blade pain, or arm pain. Treatment options at P3 typically include traction, joint manipulation, or corrective exercise. 

Neck Strain

Neck strain is commonly the result of injury to the soft tissues of your neck, the muscles or tendons. This can be caused by poor posture, repetitive motion, a collision or fall, heavy lifting, or increasing the intensity of your workout. The symptoms of neck strain can vary in intensity depending on the severity and location of the injury.

Although most neck strains start feeling better within a week, it can take several weeks for a neck strain to heal. Severe strains can take significantly longer, up to 12 weeks or more. The more extensive the injury, the more inflammation, pain, and swelling can stall recovery. To promote healing and alleviate the symptoms of neck strain, your physical therapist may recommend gentle stretching, strengthening exercises, or dry needling.

Get Help for Your Neck Pain Today

Neck pain can have a considerable impact on your quality of life. By placing your trust in Peak Physiotherapy and Performance, you can recover from injury. In addition, you can eliminate neck pain and reclaim your active lifestyle without opioid medications, painful injections, or surgery.

P3 is a physical therapy clinic specializing in the rehabilitation of orthopedic, sports, and CrossFit injuries. Sign up for our 7 Ways to Ease Neck and Shoulder Pain guide on our website, schedule a free phone consultation with Dr. Junak, or contact us to learn how we could help you restore mobility and eliminate pain.

About the Author

Dr. Andrew Junak is a Doctor of Physical Therapy and Board-Certified Orthopedic Specialist. Dr. Junak received his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Walsh University and completed his Orthopedic Specialist training at the Cleveland Clinic. He is the owner of Peak Physiotherapy and Performance, a physical therapy clinic in Canal Winchester, Ohio. He serves the local communities of Lancaster, Grove City, Pickerington, and Columbus. Dr. Junak is passionate about helping people solve their problems in order to get them back to doing the things they love.

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