How Physical Therapy Can Help Ease Neck Pain - PT Effect

How Physical Therapy Can Help Ease Neck Pain

Physical therapy can relax and strengthen the neck muscles
Read Time: 4 minutes
Aug 22, 2022

The number of people who have chronic neck pain has increased by millions in the past few decades. Common treatments for neck pain, especially if it’s chronic, include medication as well as physical therapy. Physical therapy is possibly the most common treatment for neck pain. But how, exactly, does it help?

What Are the Goals of Physical Therapy?

When it comes to neck pain, the goals of physical therapy include:

  • Reduce neck pain
  • Reduce neck stiffness
  • Increase range of motion in the neck
  • Increased strength in the neck and supporting muscles
  • Prevent future neck pain and stiffness

When Should You Seek Physical Therapy for Neck Pain?

a physical therapist treating a patient’s neck

Physical therapy can help to reduce neck pain in most cases. The exceptions are if the pain is only temporary and will go away on its own in a week or so, if the neck or spine isn’t stable enough, or if the pain is caused by a disease that needs to be treated to eliminate the pain. Most other types of neck pain can be successfully treated either with physical therapy alone or with a combination of medication and physical therapy.

What Does Physical Therapy for the Neck Entail?

The approach to treating neck pain with physical therapy depends on the cause of the pain and the person experiencing it. However, physical therapy for neck pain typically involves:

  • Ice therapy
  • Heat therapy
  • Massage
  • Electrotherapy
  • Ultrasound therapy
  • Stretching
  • Exercise
  • Etc.

How Does Ice Therapy Help Treat Neck Pain?

a woman holding an ice pack to her neck

Treating pain with ice can help to reduce swelling and inflammation, which can treat the cause of the pain. Ice can also reduce pain by constricting blood vessels and decreasing circulation.

How Does Heat Therapy Help Treat Neck Pain?

a woman holding a heat pack to her neck

Heat therapy can help to reduce pain by opening up blood vessels and increasing circulation. This aids in the healing process. Often, heat and ice therapies are alternated. Which treatment or combination of these treatments is used tends to depend on the patient’s preference.

How Does Massage Help Treat Neck Pain?

a woman getting a message from a physical therapist to help with neck pain

Massage can help to reduce pain in several ways. First, it can relax the neck muscles or joints that are in pain. Next, massage can help to reduce the patient’s anxiety and stress, which can also help to relax the muscles. Thirdly, massage can stimulate the nerves and help to shut down pain signals coming from the brain.

How Does Electrotherapy Help Treat Neck Pain?

a woman getting electrotherapy on her neck

Electrotherapy is the process of sending low-voltage electrical currents into the body either near or at nerve endings. The electric current can either block the pain or change how the patient perceives that pain.

How Does Ultrasound Therapy Help Treat Neck Pain?

a woman receiving ultrasound therapy on her shoulders

Ultrasound therapy is a therapy in which a transducer is used to send sound waves into the tissue in the affected area. A gel is used to conduct the sound waves into the body and is necessary to create a bond between the skin and the transducer device. Ultrasound therapy can relax muscles and as well as generate heat, which improves blood flow. Both of these can encourage the body’s own self-repair in order to help heal an injury.

How Does Stretching Help Treat Neck Pain?

a physical therapist performing a neck stretch on a patient

Stretches can help to increase the range of motion in the affected area. On top of that, it can help to trick the body into believing that the pain is less by decreasing muscle tone. While some stretching may be done during a physical therapy appointment, the physical therapist will also teach a patient how to do stretches so they can continue doing them at home for optimal healing.

How Do Exercises Help Treat Neck Pain?

a man and woman in workout gear doing neck exercises

Exercises can help treat neck pain by strengthening the neck muscles. Exercises can also help to improve flexibility, as well as reduce inflammation, sensitivity to pain, and fatigue. Your physical therapist will most likely give you exercises to do at home that will help to strengthen your neck muscles as well as muscles that support the neck.

Are you dealing with chronic pain?

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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