Neck pain is a very common condition which can limit your daily activities in many ways. Neck pain is felt anywhere between the base of the skull and the upper shoulder region. Often it can be felt on a specific spot on the neck or the back. However, it can also spread up to the head in the form of a headache or down to the upper back region or upper arm as well.

There are many causes of neck pain. As such it is important to make an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your neck pain so treatment can be directed treatment can be provided. Your physiotherapist or doctor can help guide a proper diagnosis and treatment plan for your neck pain.

Signs and Symptoms

You may have some but not necessarily all the symptoms listed below:

  • Dull ache in neck when head is still
  • Reduced neck movement and range of motion
  • Sharp pain with certain movements such as turning quickly or looking up
  • Dizziness/unsteadiness
  • Headaches
  • Burning shooting arm pain
  • Pins and needles in the arm
  • Numbness in the arm

What causes neck pain?

Usually neck pain can come on suddenly from a minor incident such as sleeping in an awkward position or a sudden turn of the head. It may also be caused by a more significant injury such as an impact to the head or neck.

In many other cases, the pain can come on gradually over course of hours or days and is often related to an unfamiliar activity. This can be due to performing activities with a poor or awkward posture or straining the muscles around the neck and shoulders performing prolonged and strenuous activities.

Whatever the mechanism of injury is, the neck may become strained and painful. Commonly, structures in the neck including your joints, ligaments and discs may become irritated. This also leads to the muscles reacting to limit movement and spasm which can also cause pain.

In some cases of neck pain there may also be associated nerve pain which extends down into your shoulder or arm. This is referred to as cervical radiculopathy. Cervical radiculopathy occurs when the nerve is irritated or compressed as it passes through the joints in the neck and shoulder (Jull, APA, 2019).

In cases of chronic neck pain, disc degeneration and osteoarthritis of the small joints in the neck may occur. Osteoarthritis is more common in the middle-aged to older population. Arthritis is generally caused by a long history of overloading of the joints in the neck, however some people also have a genetic predisposition to developing the condition (Jull, APA, 2019).

How your Physiotherapist can help you?

Physiotherapists will perform a thorough clinical examination to determine the reason for the pain and how it is affecting the movement of the joints, and how it has affected the muscles of the neck.

Treatment methods used by physiotherapists to help ease the pain and restore normal function of the neck include:

  • Explaining the reason for the pain and developing a plan to address the dysfunction
  • Manual therapy to mobilise the affected joints and to help restore movement
  • Dry needling to decrease pain and release muscle tension
  • Specific exercises to firstly regain range of motion and then strengthen the muscles of the neck responsible for postural control
  • Exercises to help ease pain and allow you to continue normal activities

Exercises are progressed as pain settles, as it is important that normal movement and muscle function return after an episode of pain. Ensuring these aspects are addressed will prevent further episodes of neck pain in the future. Exercise programs are designed to:

  • Train strength and endurance of the neck muscles
  • Train the supporting muscles of the neck and scapulothoracic region
  • Improve movement and flexibility of the neck
  • Improve posture during work and at home
  • Train balance and eye and head movements if dizziness are associated with the neck pain
  • Improve general fitness (Jull, APA, 2019).

What you can do at home?

  • Use ice or heat to help relieve pain
  • Find a comfortable sleeping position, usually on the side or back ensuring the head and neck are adequately supported by one or two pillows
  • Try and avoid prolonged sitting and slouched postures at work or at home which will aggravate your neck pain
  • Stay active and move regularly within your limits of pain
  • Contact your physiotherapist or doctor to determine the cause of your pain and to develop an appropriate treatment plan

Jull, G. (2019). Acute neck pain | Choose physio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].
Jull, G. (2019). Recurrent or chronic neck pain | Choose physio. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Mar. 2019].