Back and neck pain are common complaints among Americans. Sometimes the issue is caused by seemingly minor things: sleeping in an odd position, too many hours sitting in front of the computer, temporary emotional stress, or even wearing unsupportive shoes. Other times there is a more obvious source, such as a fall, a sports injury, lifting a heavy object, or a car accident. Symptoms do not always present themselves right away, but can gradually emerge over time. Car accidents, for example, often result in whiplash, an injury that damages the

muscles and ligaments in your neck and upper back, but the pain may not manifest itself for several weeks.


What Causes Upper Back and Neck Pain?

Injury to the tissues and joints around the spine is often the root of back or neck pains. This can present itself as inflammation due to stress, herniated discs, arthritis, pinched nerves, and more. Inflammation is one of your body’s first signs that something is wrong and is a common result of a muscle strain or ligament sprain. When tissues become overworked or irritated they swell and interact with the surrounding joints, tissues, and nerves in abnormal ways, causing various pains. A herniated disc occurs when the soft interior of the disc pushes through a crack in the outer wall and puts pressure on the nerve root. One cause may be when the fibers that make up the outer wall are torn during a whiplash injury in a car accident. Joint compression can also place disproportionate pressure on your nerves, causing pain to radiate from your spinal column to your extremities. When injured, our bodies naturally try to avoid using the affected areas. The surrounding muscles and connective tissues try to compensate but often cause additional problems by overworking themselves. As time goes on, our bodies become used to these alternative methods of movement and they become habit, rather than just a reaction to pain.

Physical Therapy Can Help Address the Cause of Your Back and Neck Pain

The goal of physical therapy is to eliminate the cause of your pain and help you to function better on a daily basis. This is ultimately accomplished through carefully identifying the problem and working with your body to improve flexibility, strength, coordination, and balance. Once the root problem has been identified, a physical therapist will prescribe a treatment of exercise and mobilization to help alleviate the pain and repair tissue damage. Physical therapy works to help the body unlearn bad habits it formed while compensating for an injury. Some treatments may focus on immediate pain relief, but the goal of the exercises is to retrain your body to move in a natural, healthy way. Correcting body mechanics so that all the involved muscles are working evenly and pulling in the right direction is key to recovery. It can take time to retrain these muscles, but a physical therapist will assign exercises that can be done at home.


One treatment approach is dry needling a technique that involves the application of needles in muscles, ligaments, tendons, and scar tissue to stimulate specific trigger points that release tension and reduce pain. The needle is slowly inserted into the trigger point or knot and gently manipulated before removal. Dry needling has been shown to reduce local and widespread pain, restore range of motion, and even speed up recovery time. For those who are uncomfortable with the idea of this treatment method, there are many other therapy options.


For more information about the causes of back and neck pain or to discuss treatment options, click here to contact us, or call (703)753-0261 (Haymarket/Gainesville Physical Therapy services) or (571)719-3563 (Bristow) to make an appointment.

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