Physical therapy for back and neck pain encompasses a variety of effective techniques that can alleviate pain and reduce stiffness, as well as decrease the need for addictive medications and/or surgery. Therapy for neck/back pain is typically focused on the structures that support the spine, such as ligaments, tendons, muscles, and joints.
Goals of physical therapy for back and/or neck pain include:
- Reduction in pain and stiffness
- Improved range of motion and functionality
- Strengthening of the muscles and surrounding structures
- Prevention of further painful occurrences
Treatment Methods for Back and Neck Pain
Physical therapy treatment plans for neck or back pain typically involve two components:
Passive physical therapy: Methods of treatment (modalities) that are applied which do not involve active participation by the patient and which are designed to reduce pain and inflammation
Active physical therapy: Treatments requiring the patient to move the body through stretching or targeted exercises to improve strength and flexibility
Passive Physical Therapy Methods
Heat and cold therapy: Heat and ice (often alternated) are two of the most commonly used modalities to reduce pain, inflammation, and muscle spasms. These methods are especially effective in the early stages of treatment.
Massage therapy: Pain and stiffness can be reduced through loosening and relaxing the muscles through massage.
Iontophoresis: This method of delivering steroids or pain relief medication through the skin involves applying a topical medicine and utilizing an electrical current to help it pass through the skin to the affected areas. The ant-inflammatory effects of this treatment are often helpful in managing acute episodes of pain.
Electrotherapy: A device equipped with wires is used to send mild electrical currents to the injured area. Electrotherapy can help alter pain signals to the brain, stimulate muscle contractions, and promote tissue healing. A TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit, which is small and portable, is the most common method of administering electrotherapy.
Ultrasound: High-energy soundwaves are sent through a handheld device gently moved around the affected area. The soundwaves create a deep heating that is sent below the skin’s surface and into the painful tissue which relaxes the muscles and reduces pain.
Active Physical Therapy Methods
Stretching exercises: Different stretching exercises may be recommended depending on the area and cause of your back or neck pain. Exercises to train the muscles attached to the cervical spine can help alleviate neck pain, while hamstring stretches can benefit those with lower back pain. Your physical therapist will create an exercise treatment plan specific to your individual needs.
Strengthening exercises: Core muscle strengthening can be beneficial for both neck and back pain. Lumbar stabilization and other exercises may also be prescribed. Your therapist will help you learn to do these treatments correctly to gain the most benefit for your condition.
Aerobic activity: Low- impact aerobics, such as brisk walking or cycling, elevates breathing levels and blood flow and helps condition the muscles.
Aquatic exercise: The buoyancy of water can minimize pressure on the spine during exercise while still allowing the benefits of working and strengthening the muscles.
Physical therapy has been shown to reduce spine-related pain in the lower back and neck, as well as improve range of motion. Success with physical therapy often increases when passive and active methods are implemented together as part of a personal treatment plan.
Physical therapy may be recommended in a variety of cases, including:
- Unspecified chronic pain
- After a neck or back injury
- Post-operative treatment
- As part of a treatment program for other chronic conditions or diseases
If you are experiencing neck or back pain and would like to explore physical therapy options, please contact our office for an evaluation.