How Physical Therapy Can Help Ease Neck Pain

Neck pain can stem from various causes, including whiplash or other trauma to the neck, disc problems, arthritis in the neck, poor sitting posture, or flexing your head forward for extended periods of time ("text neck"). Whether you feel pain at the back or side of your neck, in your shoulder, or radiating down your arm, your doctor may refer you to physical therapy for treatment if the pain worsens, persists, or is accompanied by other symptoms.

Since neck pain is a common complaint that doctors hear from patients, don't be afraid to speak up and ask about the treatment options available. If you prefer a non-invasive treatment program, physical therapy offers various methods of treatment to help alleviate the symptoms associated with neck pain and to prevent future pain.


Other symptoms associated with neck pain that you may suffer include:

  • Neck stiffness (not accompanied by fever, lethargy, nausea, or vomiting)

  • Trouble lifting your head

  • Decreased range of motion

  • Numbness or a tingling sensation in your arm, hand, or fingers

  • Weakness in your shoulder, arm, or hand

Fortunately, physical therapy treatment can help decrease your pain and discomfort and improve limited neck mobility.

Postural Correction

Improper sitting posture can put stress on your neck, leading to aches and pains, particularly if you have a tendency to hold your head in a forward flexed position. Your physical therapist can teach you how to maintain the correct posture and recommend strategies, such as using a cervical roll, to help keep your neck in the proper posture when sitting or lying down.

Manual Cervical Traction

Physical therapy to alleviate your neck pain may involve applying manual cervical traction. Your physical therapist will have you lie down on your back with your head near one end of the treatment table. With one hand holding the back of your neck and the other cupped under your chin, he or she will gradually apply a slow traction force. Let your physical therapist know if gently pulling on your neck relieves the pain. If you don't feel any relief at first, your physical therapist may slightly raise or lower your neck before applying traction again.

Range of Motion Exercises

Your physical therapist may instruct you on how to perform neck range of motion exercises such as gentle neck movements and rotations to decrease pain.

One simple exercise is is to bend your head and neck forward toward your chest and then bend them back until you are looking up at the ceiling. Next, bend your right ear toward your right shoulder. Repeat the exercise on the left side. Another exercise is to slowly turn your head to one side as far as it will go and then turn it to the opposite side.

Neck Retraction

Because tight and weak muscles can cause pain and make you more susceptible to injury, your physical therapist may instruct you in cervical retraction to stretch and strengthen the muscles at the back of your neck.

To perform neck retraction at home, lie down on your back with a pillow under your head. With your chin tucked down toward your neck, gently push the back of your head into the pillow. Repeat the exercise several times.

For more information about neck pain and its treatments, talk to a physical therapist like those at Robert Volski & Associates Physical Therapy.