How Physical Therapists treat Neck Stiffness

How Physical Therapists treat Neck Stiffness

Is your Neck stiff? 

Turning your head is often taken for granted. When it's taken away from you, you’ll soon appreciate the good times. Maybe you can’t turn your head, forcing you to turn your body instead. Someone calls your name and you can’t turn to look. Checking your blind spot while driving becomes a full body ordeal. And oftentimes this neck stiffness is paired with neck pain as an added bonus. It’s no fun, and it’s something we, as physical therapists, treat often in the clinic. 

I’m an orthopedic physical therapist, and treat people with neck stiffness and pain all day long. So, I want to share with you some of my strategies for eliminating neck stiffness for my patients. These techniques can be effective for anyone with neck stiffness and can often be performed at home. Okay, let’s get started:

Hot Pack

An easy first step to helping your neck stiffness and pain is putting a hot pack on your neck. Be sure to have enough layers between the heat and your skin to avoid the potential for burns. Oftentimes getting some heat on your neck can help to relax your neck muscles which may be tight or in a spasm. Don’t have a hot pack? Spend a little extra time in the shower, with the hot water directed at your neck. My patients often tell me this helps.

 How often should you use the hot pack? If it helps, often (multiple times a day). In the clinic we’ll usually heat the neck for 10 minutes at a time. Have your arms supported by lying down or sitting in a supportive chair. Arm support can help relieve neck pain and tension.

Thoracic Mobility

The thoracic spine is the region of your back surrounded by your rib cage. This can be valuable real estate for helping to improve your neck stiffness.

Loosening up your thoracic spine can loosen up your neck. A great way to stretch your thoracic spine is to use a foam roller. A 3 foot long foam roller would be ideal. The exercises I’m showing you are easy, and highly effective for stretching, loosening, and mobilizing the thoracic spine. As a result, your neck stiffness will often improve. Try it for yourself. 

Here’s a video of the foam roller exercises I like to do with my patients: 

Thoracic Mobility Exercises for Neck Stiffness:

 Head Turns

Here’s where the NecksLevel device becomes your best friend. I designed it with you, and your stiff, painful neck in mind. Turning your head, and stretching your neck on the NecksLevel device is a smooth, relaxing experience that I’ve seen to be very effective for people with neck stiffness. 

Physical therapists call turning your head, “neck rotation” and in this video I will walk you through how to stretch your neck and decrease your neck stiffness using the rotation motion on the NecksLevel device:

Treating Neck Stiffness on the NecksLevel Device:

What if you don't have a NecksLevel device? Two options for you. One is to call your local physical therapist or chiropractor to see if they have a device in their clinic. If they do, that’s your move. If you’re still unable to get on a NecksLevel device, you can mimic the motion while lying on a pillow. It’s funny, just yesterday I heard my stiff-necked patient commenting on how she prefers the device to the pillow exercise. She said, “The NecksLevel device is like giving your neck a lollipop.” Well said, but this pillow exercise can still be helpful and here’s the video:

Head Turns on a Pillow:

Heat, thoracic stretching, and neck turns. The trifecta for loosening up your stiff neck and decreasing your neck pain. I hope this was helpful, and you can put your neck stiffness behind you! If you liked this post, please share with your stiff-necked friends!

 Summary:

  1. Neck Hot Pack - 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off. Use as much as needed
  2. Thoracic mobility - Use a 3 Foot Foam Roller and follow along with the video
  3. Head Turns - Turn head left and right for 1-2 minutes, see above video

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