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Recurrent or chronic neck pain

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What is recurrent or chronic neck pain?

Recurrent or chronic neck pain is where you may have one episode of neck pain and will have another episode of neck pain months or years later. This can occur over a period of a persons lifetime. It is common that people experience light-headedness or a dizzy feeling, some unsteadiness with balance and, occasionally, visual symptoms although symptoms may vary. The pain can be felt anywhere between the base of the skull and the upper shoulder region and can spread to head, upper back or arm.

What causes recurrent or chronic neck pain?

The most common cause of recurrent or chronic neck pain is a build up of repeated minor strain caused by poor or prolonged sitting postures at work in which can be worsened by prolonged ‘head-down’ postures at home. People whose occupations involve sustained neck postures and lifting in awkward positions are prone to repeated minor strains and pain. Recurrent or chronic neck pain may also be caused by disc degeneration and osteoarthritis of the small joints in the neck.

How do I know if I have recurrent or chronic neck pain?

You may have recurrent or chronic neck pain if you experience the following:

  • Disturbances in vison  
  • Light-headedness
  • Pain felt on back of neck may spread to head
  • Pain is usually continuous although it may fluctuate over weeks, months and years.
  • Repeated episodes of neck pain over many months or years
  • Unsteadiness

Diagnosis will be made on symptoms rather than imaging techniques. Therefore no imaging techniques required.

How can treatment methods used by physiotherapists help with recurrent or chronic neck pain?

To treat recurrent or chronic neck pain your physiotherapist will need to assess your neck and understand your concerns about your neck, and how the neck pain, and any other symptoms are affecting your daily activities and sleep. Your physiotherapist will check this pain is limiting your daily activities. An examination will need to be completed so that your physiotherapist can analyse postures and tasks that aggravate the pain, and any other symptoms. Physical tests will also be completed.

Physiotherapist will use a range of treatment to help treat this condition which include:

  • Education, advice and assurance –  Your physiotherapist will be able to help you understand your condition and give you advice that will help reduce pain.
  • Manual therapy
  • Exercise – Exercises may be used to help ease pain. They are designed to:
  • improve posture and postural habits during work and recreation
  • improve movement and flexibility of the neck
  • train the supporting muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle
  • train strength and endurance of the neck muscles
  • train balance, neck movement accuracy, and head and eye movement control when light-headedness or unsteadiness are symptoms of the neck pain disorder
  • improve general fitness.
  • Additional treatments – Your physiotherapist may use other techniques such as heat, acupuncture, dry needling and various massage techniques.
  • Self-management program – Your physiotherapist will be able to give you a personalised plan that will help prevent recurrent episodes. This will include exercises.

What can I do at home?

It is important that you following the instructions of your physiotherapist these include: effective self-management, avoiding uncomfortable positions, moving regularly, performing daily head movements and completing any other exercises prescribed.

How long will my recovery be?

Your recovery time will depend on the individual person, pain may settle in a few weeks where others may take up to 12 weeks or longer. In some cases the pain may never completely disappear but will settle to mild to moderate to allow you to complete daily activities. Effective self-management is vital for a comfortable and active lifestyle.



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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.