Ice or heat: Which may help neck pain?

Neck pain can make everyday activities like driving and sitting at a computer very difficult. It often comes along with other symptoms, like muscle tightness, spasms, headaches, numbness, tingling and stiffness. Your pain may get worse when you hold your head in the same position for more than a few seconds. 

Finding relief soon is important — neck pain can turn into a chronic issue, which is pretty common: 50% to 85% of adults over 21 never completely get rid of their symptoms. Fortunately, there are a few different treatments and lifestyle adjustments that can help you start to feel better.

This article will answer your questions about ice and heat therapy and cover some other treatments that may help.

Is ice or heat better for neck pain?

The best approach to soothing neck pain with ice or heat may depend on the cause of your pain. Ice reduces inflammation, while heat relaxes the stiff neck muscles. Combining ice and heat therapy may get you the best results. Try alternating using ice packs and heating pads for about 20 minutes each several times a day.

If your pain started after impact from a car accident, diving accident or a fall, or if you’re feeling severe pain that does not respond to at-home treatment, seek medical care right away.

What’s causing my neck pain?

Most neck pain comes from muscle strains after repetitive or sudden movements, like whiplash. These can lead to chronic pain, especially if you have poor posture. Joint damage and inflammation are also common causes of neck pain. Joint damage is often caused by traumatic injury, and inflammation may come with age and joint disease, like arthritis. There are also structural problems that can cause neck pain, like bone spurs and pinched nerves. 

What physical therapy treatments can help with neck pain?

Your physical therapist can help analyze what’s happening with your neck and create a customized treatment plan to help reduce or eliminate your pain altogether. Physical therapy treatments can include soothing joint and tissue manipulation techniques as well as stretches, strength exercises and ergonomic adjustments. 

In addition to physical therapy, pain relievers and corticosteroid injections can provide some relief. However, these can just mask underlying symptoms. Corticosteroids wear off after a few weeks or months, and you can only get a limited number of injections in a particular area.

Here’s a bit more detail about physical therapy treatments for neck pain:

  • Manual therapy — In manual therapy, your PT uses massage-like movements to mobilize stiff joints and tissue. This can get more fresh blood circulating through the area to help your body heal naturally. Any professional working on your neck should have a license or certification. At Lattimore Physical Therapy, we have 30 therapists with a Certification in Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy (COMT) who have expertise in neck anatomy and safe manual therapy methods.
  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) — This technique is like manual therapy, except the therapist uses ergonomic stainless steel tools to penetrate muscles and tissue more deeply. 
  • Targeted stretching exercises — Overextending your neck can be dangerous. Your physical therapist can show you neck stretches that are safe and target the specific pain you’re feeling. 
  • Ergonomics education — Physical therapists can assess your daily movements at work or at home and help you make adjustments to lessen your neck pain. Ergonomic supports like seat cushions and back braces can help with poor posture. Getting up every hour or so to stretch and move for a few minutes is also helpful.
  • Customized strength exercises — Strengthening the muscles that support your neck, including your shoulders, core and back, can decrease some types of neck pain. Your PT will show you how to do the exercises and create a plan for increasing and maintaining your strength.

Get more relief from neck pain at Lattimore PT

You may be able to keep your neck pain from becoming a chronic issue. Your PT can provide relief for some types of neck pain without invasive treatments or major changes — but time is of the essence. 

A physical therapist is a great resource for learning about your body and exploring effective treatments. At Lattimore Physical Therapy, we take the time to listen to our patients and take a hands-on approach to support your body’s natural functions. Our services are covered by most major health insurance providers.

Get in touch with us to schedule a PT assessment or find a Lattimore PT location near you. Let’s see if we can find out what’s causing your neck pain and get you feeling better.

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