Neck pain and what you can do to help it - ESP Physio

Neck pain and what you can do to help it

December 30, 2019

Do you have a sore neck? Well, you are not alone! Neck pain is the fourth leading cause of disability (Wang et al 2016). Each year, 3 in 10 people will experience some form of neck pain and up to 70% of the population will experience neck pain at some point in their lives (Child et al 2008).

Neck pain can be caused by injuries such as muscle strains from sports, whiplash from accidents, or even sustained awkward postures through work. In this blog however, we will be focusing on Degenerative Neck Pain.

What is degenerative neck pain?

Degenerative neck pain is a broad term referring to neck pain related to the normal degenerative process our body experiences as we age. This involves a loss of space between your neck joints, dehydrated or worn discs and potentially ligamentous thickening.

As a result of these changes, the surrounding joints, nerves and muscles then takes increased pressure. Often, the body can adapt to the increased demands. Other times, this might just tip things over and irritate the surrounding structures, thus causing you to experience neck pain. 

How do I know if I have this?

People with degenerative neck pain are typically in one (and often more) of these categories:

  • Older age (>40 years old and increasing likelihood with age)
  • Occupations involving repetitive neck movements or heavy loads on neck/shoulder
  • Smokers
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Sleep problems

Common signs and symptoms

  • Gradual onset of neck pain/stiffness that comes and goes
  • Pain with movement, usually looking upwards and tilting sideways
  • Stiffness in morning or after prolonged positions
  • Loss of neck mobility

Other symptoms

  • Pain radiating down into the upper back, shoulder, arms
  • Changes in sensation in shoulders, arms, fingers (usually one-sided)
  • Feeling of weakness in arms (usually one-sided)
  • Headaches up the back of head and to the front, or even behind the eyes

Speak to a GP if any of the following symptoms are present:

  • lack of co-ordination – for example trouble with tasks like buttoning a shirt
  • heaviness or weakness in both your arms or legs
  • pins and needles in both arms
  • problems walking
  • loss of bladder or bowel control

These are indications of a more serious problem that requires immediate medical attention.

What can I do about neck pain?

Like with most musculoskeletal injuries, degenerative neck pain is mostly self-limiting and will resolve with time as the body adapts (up to 6 weeks).

Although degeneration itself cannot be reversed, we can maximise the mobility we have and strengthen the surrounding muscles to increase its capacity to tolerate more pressure around the area. This reduces the likelihood of neck pain in the future!

Of course, we know that it can be frustrating to live with the pain even with the knowledge that things will improve. Here are some suggestions to help manage this.

Avoid aggravating movements

Identify any specific activities or movement that makes the pain worse, especially in the first few days and avoid doing too much of this. For example, if looking over the shoulder hurts, avoid this temporarily or modify this by turning your body instead. Once pain has decreased, start looking further round the shoulder again

Get pain relief!

This can be through heat treatment such as hot packs/showers, specific movements/activities that decreases symptoms. Painkillers such as Paracetamol and anti-inflammatories such as Ibuprofen, can be very helpful, especially in the early stages of pain. Speak to your pharmacist regarding this!

Perform these exercises

Exercises such as stretches or self-massage techniques can also be helpful. Here are some exercises you can try;

Neck release stretch

Sub-occipital muscle release stretch

Seek professional help!

Even with this knowledge, it can be difficult when you are experiencing pain to identify the aggravating movements or come up with a plan of action. This is where the guidance of a qualified physiotherapist can benefit you, especially if;

  • Symptoms persist or keeps coming back
  • The pain worries you 
  • You are unable to find relief from your symptoms
  • You are unsure of what to do

Here at ESP, we will perform a full history taking and complete assessment to ensure an accurate diagnosis. We will then come up with a treatment plan that is tailored to yourself. This will involve a combination of a bespoke exercise program; advice specific to your situation; and hands-on treatment (such as soft-tissue treatments, joint or neural mobilisations) to help relieve your symptoms. Once symptoms have improved, we will then look at ways to prevent this pain in the neck from coming back!

If this sounds good to you, then book yourself in for an appointment here! Alternatively, call us at 01324 227 370 and we will get you sorted!


Wang, H., Naghavi, M., Allen, C., Barber, R.M., Bhutta, Z.A., Carter, A., Casey, D.C., Charlson, F.J., Chen, A.Z., Coates, M.M. and Coggeshall, M., 2016. GBD 2015 Mortality and Causes of Death Collaborators. Global, regional, and national life expectancy, all-cause mortality, and cause-specific mortality for 249 causes of death, 1980-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Lancet, 388(10053), pp.1459-1544.

 Childs, J.D., Cleland, J.A., Elliott, J.M., Teyhen, D.S., Wainner, R.S., Whitman, J.M., Sopky, B.J., Godges, J.J., Flynn, T.W., Delitto, A. and Dyriw, G.M., 2008. Neck pain: clinical practice guidelines linked to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health from the Orthopaedic Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 38(9), pp.A1-A34.