Neck pain is sometimes an occasional annoyance that goes away fairly quickly. However, if you’re living with chronic neck-related discomfort that’s been an issue for four to six months or more, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy (PT). To help you get the most out of your PT efforts, here are some tips to keep in mind as you go forward with your recommended exercises, methods, and techniques.
1. Set Small, Realistic Goals
Of course you want to get complete relief from chronic neck pain, but this isn’t likely to happen right away when you start your PT program. Instead of setting yourself up for disappointment and frustration, set smaller, realistic goals as you work with your doctor or physical therapist. Initial goals for PT may include:
• Reducing swelling or stiffness
• Improving the ability to go about your daily routine without distracting neck pain
• Expanding your neck’s comfortable range of motion
The best time to discuss short-term and long-term goals is when a PT plan is first recommended. Doing so can get you and your therapist or doctor on the same page with regard to expectations (e.g., what’s typically experienced after 1–2 weeks of therapy, 3–4 weeks, etc.). Also ask your doctor about what steps may be required if PT isn’t effective. If you have a severely damaged disc in your neck, treatment may eventually involve a surgical procedure such as anterior cervical decompression, also known as ACDF surgery. Los Angeles patients should discuss all the long-term treatment options to set achievable goals and self-monitor their progress.
2. Do Your Neck Exercises and Stretches Correctly
Performing therapeutic neck exercises or stretches incorrectly can do more harm than good. Make sure to follow instructions about form and technique, especially if you’re advised to perform certain exercises at home between sessions. Should you have any difficulty with some movements, your therapist may be able to recommend modifications that can still target the same neck-supporting muscle groups in a way that’s safer and easier for you.
3. Stick with Your PT Routine
Some people stop physical therapy because they’re not seeing results quickly, and others end PT early because they “feel fine.” However, you’re not going to get the most out of PT for your neck pain if you do either of these things. First of all, realize some discomfort as you start doing neck exercises is perfectly normal. However, extreme and sudden or increasingly worsening pain isn’t normal, so let your therapist know if this happens.
Second, ending PT early can have some unexpected consequences. For example, if you’re halfway through an eight-week PT routine and you’ve reached a point where your neck pain has gone away entirely or become far less distracting, this is great. However, stopping a PT plan before it’s completed can increase your odds of developing the same type of neck pain again, especially if your neck-supporting muscles haven’t regained their full strength and flexibility.
4. Be Willing to Make Some Lifestyle Changes
A comprehensive physical therapy program for neck pain isn’t totally focused on exercises alone. Patients are often given additional recommendations about other things they can do to reduce chronic neck pain. In addition to continuing with certain exercises at home after your PT program ends, you may be advised to:
• Stay active and take breaks to stretch your neck and shoulders
• Watch your diet habits and make an effort to eat balanced, nutrient-rich meals that include green leafy veggies and other foods that tend to naturally reduce inflammation
• Be mindful of your head-neck-upper spine alignment as you sleep and use your various tech devices
• Pay constant attention to your posture, especially if you spend several hours sitting at a desk each day
• Use supportive neck pillows for long car rides or plane trips
Finally, don’t forget to give honest feedback. Everybody reacts differently to physical therapy for neck pain. Give honest input about what you’re experiencing and whether or not your symptoms are noticeably improving so adjustments can be made if necessary. There’s no point in continuing with techniques that are ineffective for you. It can be just as helpful if you let your therapist know what’s working.
If you’re having severe or chronic neck pain, physical therapy may be exactly the right treatment for you, but don’t try to do it on your own. Make sure to seek the advice of a Los Angeles spine surgeon to get a proper diagnosis and customized treatment plan. The spinal health experts at The Spine Institute have years of experience treating all forms of neck and back pain, and their cutting-edge methods have positioned them as pioneers in the industry. Reach out to our helpful staff today at 310-828-7757 to schedule a consultation.