Neck pain typically comes in two flavors – Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) and nontraumatic neck pain. There are many types of treatment for neck pain both within the physical therapy realm and outside of PT. Which makes the research confusing and difficult to interpret!
For instance, the book I am using for this blog series is titled “Mechanisms and Management of Pain for the Physical Therapist”. In the “Neck Pain” Chapter, the author states that “early results from trials of cervical disc arthroplasty for radicular symptoms seem to show similar early symptomatic improvement when compared with anterior discectomy and fusion surgery”. In my personal experience, I have had one patient who had a cervical disc arthroplasty who had extremely poor results. So, is the research not really far enough along to recommend this surgery as the new “gold standard”? Or did my patient just have poor surgical results? These questions are difficult to discern and I am trying to hold out on passing judgement on cervical disc replacement. From a biomechanical perspective, replacing the disc allows for maintenance of normal motion which is GOOD. This is opposed to fusion surgery which disturbs normal motion which is BAD. However, all my patients who have had fusion surgery report GOOD results after the surgery. Now, to be fair, they almost all require future surgeries later in life as the body compensates for the decreased motion from the fusion – which is BAD.
Patients who have been in a motor vehicle accident and suffer from WAD tend to do better if they receive early intervention that consists of manual therapy, exercise, and education. Patients who have higher levels of pain and dysfunction tend to require longer treatment times. Therefore, beginning treatment for the problem earlier most likely decreases long term dysfunction and improves outcomes.
Nontraumatic neck pain also responds well to intervention consisting of manual therapy, exercise, and education. However, since there is not an “event” that started the neck pain, these patients tend to wait longer to start treatment. This increases the likelihood of the pain transitioning into a chronic pain situation which then involves abnormal processing through the central and peripheral nervous systems.
What’s the take away here? If you have neck pain of unknown origin or from a car accident, take conservative measure for the first few days. Move your neck gently through pain free motion. Use ice to decrease pain. Limit activities that cause pain but keep exercising as usual if at all possible. If your symptoms do not resolve with the first 4-7 days, it is time to contact a medical professional to get to the root of the problem.
If you have any questions regarding your neck pain, please feel free to contact Amy at (425)658-4944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.