Neck Pain and Headaches

We know neck pain can be frustrating. Many people with neck pain also experience tingling, numbness or weakness in their arms, or headaches and dizziness. This is  because your neck contains several muscles, ligaments, nerves and blood vessels that travel up to your head or down your arms. Here you'll find information on what most commonly causes neck pain and what can be done to prevent it from getting worse. 

Scroll down to learn about what types of treatments you should be looking for, what physicians often don't have time to talk about, how our workshops might be helpful, and other services that can help you prevent your neck pain from getting worse. ​We are here to help you. Let's do this together!

What Causes Neck Pain?

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Your neck is what connects your head to the rest of your body. Normally, your body is quite stable and is able to hold your neck in a stable position. In turn, your neck supports your head and allows it to move in different directions. If any if the structures around your neck are strained, it can change the way that it moves and causes pain.

Common causes of neck pain include:

  • Whiplash

  • Poor posture

  • Repeated motion

  • Tension build-up

  • Back injury

Types of Treatments

Physiotherapy

It is well documented in research that physiotherapy can have a great impact on the symptoms of neck pain. Most people turn to pain medications, or injections, and often don't get any long term relief. These methods help to mask the pain temporarily but don't help the cause of the problem. When the pain keeps coming back, many will consider surgery.

Physiotherapy can help identify the cause of the problem, provide treatment and share strategies for you to manage your pain at home. It is never too early or too late to start correcting your movement patterns, reduce your pain and get back to a normal life.

Manual Therapy

Since neck pain has no many different possible causes, having a physiotherapist do an assessment can be very helpful in identifying what is going on. Even if you've had an X-Ray or MRI showing some degeneration, stenosis or disc bulging, these things are not necessarily the root of your problem.

With manual therapy, a physiotherapist can have a look at how each bone is moving next to the other, as well as how the muscles are helping with movement. They can verify if any nerves or blood vessels are being compressed or irritated. They can check to see if any ligaments are injured. These are things that you won't see on an X-Ray or MRI.

Once the cause is identified, manual therapy can help your bones move better, and help your muscles relax. You should feel some relief after the first few treatments. Your physiotherapist should show you some exercises to make sure that the pain keeps improving, and doesn't come back!

Exercises

When choosing an exercise for your neck pain, you need to be very careful. It is easy to place excess strain on the neck without knowing, which would make your pain worse over time. 

The first exercise that you should practice is for stability. Learn to keep your neck strong and stable. Once you can do this, then you can try exercises that are more challenging, all while keeping your neck stable.

The type of exercise that you do is important. Your brain is most likely to remember how to recruit your muscles if you practice during activities that are meaningful to you. We want to make the changes permanent, so we use activities that you enjoy in the clinic, and in your Home Exercise Program.

Frequency

In order to make the brain understand which muscles should be working, it is important to practice your exercises correctly, and often. Just like remembering a new phone number. You might choose to review it, to make sure you remember it correctly, then you will repeat it to yourself often to make sure that you don't forget it.

The same strategy applies to your movements. You need to make sure that you are recruiting the muscles that stabilise your neck every time you perform an activity, like making a meal. For this reason, our treatment plans are designed with visits 1 to 2 times per week. 

Duration

The length of treatment has two components. First, the type of session, and second, the total length of the treatment plan.

There are two types of sessions to choose from: regular treatment and complex treatment. Most people with neck pain benefit from regular treatment sessions, that focus on only one problem. If you have pain in more than one place, sometimes a complex treatment session is beneficial to address more than one problem at once.

For your first treatment plan, we often suggest a duration of 4 weeks. This allows us to see how you progress and how you are doing with your Home Exercise Program. After these 4 weeks, you may choose to continue on your own, or to continue for another treatment plan, which can be for up to 12 weeks.

The duration of your treatment will be discussed with your physiotherapist on the day of your initial assessment. Depending on what the findings are, and what your goals are, you will talk about what type of treatment session is most appropriate and how many weeks you should start with. 

Exercise is Important!

What to expect from your specialist (and what not to):

When you are first experiencing neck pain, you might not be sure what to do next. Your specialist has likely talked to you about your X-Ray or MRI and what surgery can do for you. The topic of exercise has likely come up, but it might not be clear whether exercise is good or bad. 

Here's some information that your specialist won't discuss with you:  Stabilisation is everything! When you learn to stabilise your neck, your vertebrae can move with a better alignment and prevent strain on your ligaments, nerves or blood vessels. By correcting your alignment, you can continue to exercise with a reduced amount of stress on your neck.

Exercise is very important to make sure that you continue to move with good patterns, to prevent the onset of pain and poor posture over time. You can do this on your own, or with the help of a physiotherapist. The important thing is that you keep yourself moving as much as possible for as long as possible.

Last Modified September 2019