Understanding Neck Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Neck pain is a common condition that can stem from various causes, leading to discomfort and limited mobility in the neck and upper shoulders. It’s estimated that 22-70% of the population will have neck pain at one point in their lives. In addition, the incidence of neck pain increases with age, and is most common in women age 50 and olderLet’s take a closer look into the causes, symptoms, and physical therapy treatments associated to better understand neck pain. 

Spinal Discs

Causes of Neck Pain

As mentioned before, neck pain can initially stem from a wide range of injuries and conditions. Physical therapists are specifically trained to identify the source on your pain through comprehensive movement analysis screenings. They will conduct a full evaluation of your medical history to establish any underlying conditions that may be contributing to your discomfort. Below are some of the most common causes of neck pain that we see in our clinic:
  1. Muscle Strain and Tension: Commonly due to prolonged periods of poor posture, excessive computer or phone use, or sleeping in an uncomfortable position can strain the muscles in the neck and upper back, causing pain and stiffness. Many people working from home or on computers, attending Zoom meetings, or on our mobile devices for hours, putting strain on our necks. 
  2. Poor Ergonomics: Incorrect positioning of the head, neck, or shoulders during work such as hunching over a desk or improper desk and chair height, or keyboard configuration, can contribute to chronic neck pain. 
  3. Degenerative Disc Disease: As we age, the discs in the neck can wear down, causing stiffness and pain. The condition is known as degenerative disc disease. 
  4. Herniated Disc: A herniated disc or bulging disc in the cervical spine can put pressure on the nerves, resulting in neck pain and radiating pain down the arm. 
  5. Whiplash: Sudden, forceful back-and-forth movement of the neck, often experienced in car accidents, can cause whiplash, resulting in neck pain and stiffness. 
  6. Osteoarthritis: Arthritis in the neck joints can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. 
  7. Injuries: Accidents, falls, or sports injuries can cause sprains, strains, or fractures in the neck, resulting in acute or chronic neck pain.   

Symptoms of Neck Pain:

Physical therapists use conservative measures to diagnose and prescribe corrective exercises to alleviate neck pain symptoms. Below are the symptoms typically presented with neck pain:
  1. Pain and Stiffness: Persistent or intermittent pain and stiffness in the neck, often worsened with movement or maintaining the same position for an extended period.  
  2. Limited Range of Motion: Difficulty moving the neck, looking up, and turning the head, affecting everyday activities.
  3. Headaches: Neck pain can radiate to the head, causing tension and what we refer to as cervicogenic headaches.
  4. Radiating Pain: Pain that radiates down the arm, often indicating nerve compression or irritation. 
  5. Muscle Spasms: Involuntary muscle contractions or spasms in the neck and upper back. 

Physical Therapy for Neck Pain

Physical Therapy Treatment

Physical therapy is praised as a conservative and cost-effective treatment method for various types of neck pain. Since neck pain can be caused my by multiple conditions or injuries, there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Each patient will present with unique symptoms.
  • Comprehensive Assessment: A physical therapist conducts a thorough evaluation of posture, range of motion, strength, and flexibility to identify the root cause of neck pain. 
  • Exercise and Stretching: Customized exercises and stretches aimed at improving neck muscle strength, flexibility, and range of motion. This may include neck stretches, chin tucks, and shoulder blade squeezes. 
  • Posture Correction: Guidance on maintaining proper posture daily during activities, ergonomics adjustments, and recommendations for ergonomic tools to prevent further strain.
  • Education and Lifestyle Modification: Providing education on lifestyle changes, ergonomic improvements, and proper body mechanics to minimize strain on the neck and prevent the recurrence of pain. 
  • Progressive Strength Training: Gradually introducing strengthening exercises for the neck and upper back muscles to enhance overall neck support and stability. 
  • Patient-Specific Treatment Plans: Developing individualized treatment plan based on the patients unique needs, pain level, and response to therapy, adjusting the program as necessary. 

What You Can Do

One of the primary roles of a physical therapist is to provide patient education. Some conditions can be directly related to behavioral patterns or strength defecits. Below are general strengthening exercises specific to the neck that you can implement to help avoid neck pain from setting in. 

Chin Tucks

1. Start with your head and back against a flat surface.
2. Tuck your chin down towards your spine.
3. Lift your head about an index fingers distance above the surface to activate your deep neck flexors. Hold this position for 5 seconds, and relax. Repeat for 10 repetitions.


Prone T’s

1. Start by lying face down on your stomach with your arms in a T position. 
2. Raise your arms and head off of the ground to active your scapular, paraspinal muscles. 


Face Pulls 

1. Using a resistive band, start with your hands in front of your body.
2. Slowly pull your hands toward your face forming a W with your arms to activate you posterior shoulder muscles and scapular stabilizers. Hold this position for 5 seconds, and relax. Repeat for 10 repetitions. 



Neck pain can be debilitating and often difficult to resolve without the proper knowledge and tools. If you or someone you care about is suffering from neck pain, don’t hesitate to call us for a complimentary consultation. Our team of experts can perform a quick screening of your neck to determine the best plan of action for getting back to the lifestyle you desire. 

 In good health,

– The Salinas Team

Disclaimer: The information provided on SalinasPT’s website is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. We strive to ensure the accuracy and timeliness of the information. By using this website, you acknowledge that you assume full responsibility for any actions taken based on the information provided, and we disclaim all liability for any damages or consequences resulting from such actions. Always consult a qualified healthcare professional for personalized medical advice and treatment.