Is there really a solution for long term neck pain?
Neck pain is something that effects many of us, be it whilst we are working, after gym sessions or in the mornings when we wake, it can wear us down, so is there really a solution for long term neck pain?
I’ve recently worked with a lovely lady, Angela, who had right sided neck pain for the past 2 years. The pain was along the right side of her neck and occasionally travelled down her arm. She was having chiropractic treatment which helped for a few days but then she woke up and it was stiff and painful again. She was even waking at night with a headache and neck pain.
This is a very typical story for neck pain but what made it worse for Angela was that she slept on her front, had done for years and was not able to change this as much as she tried.
When I saw her, I was not sure what we could add to make a long-term impact on this viscous cycle of pain. I knew I would be able to relieve her pain in the short term but then I would be doing what the chiropractor had just been doing. We needed to find a solution where by Angela could start to manage her own symptoms.
For me, physiotherapy is about the bigger picture, its not just about the manipulation or massage, but also its not just about a generic exercise programme for neck exercises, its about seeing a person in front of you and opening your mind to a world of solutions. So, that’s what we did… Firstly, we did some massage and manipulation on her neck, this helped but as we expected only for a short while, we then checked what exercises she was doing and what frequency. This all seemed reasonable… This was going to be challenging!
Next step was to get her to do a diary and work out what were her main triggers, at this stage she was waking up every day with a headache and often in the middle of the night. So, as suspected her sleeping position was probably the biggest trigger as well as a long day at the computer.
The next thing we tried was the neck saviour, this is a great product especially if you suffer from headaches. As, she was indeed the most committed patient she bought a neck saviour and started to use it.
Along side this we discussed ways to avoid sleeping on the front, as well as starting to give her mid back exercises to allow her to get moving. I also set her the task of finding a local Pilates Class.
Fast forward 8 weeks, there was some improvements, headaches were less frequent, and not waking her at night, her morning routine of stretches under a hot shower was really helping with her day time pain and her main problem was still at night. We also gave her a soft ball to stretch her neck out with.
Even though Angela was slowly making progress, I was worried we would not be able to get past the sleeping issue but then she started Pilates. We found a class ran by a physio (Angela didn’t live close to me!) and they focused on core and mobilising the back.
Well, my favourite part of my job is a happy story. Angela came back to me last week, we had been spreading the time between sessions and over all it had been 6 months since she first started working with me and she was pain free.
So, the moral to this tale, isn’t how great I am but more about the great partnership:
- Angela would keep up with all the exercises I had given her and had got into a routine with them (often when giving exercises people will forget about the old ones).
- She kept going with the neck saviour (perseverance with neck pain is important)
- We kept trying new things to see if they made any difference and sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t
The winning recipe was probably a mix of them all, time doing everything and Angela’s commitment to the programme.
I was also mildly sceptical as to whether Pilates would help but I really can say that that was the turning point for Angela.
The great news about Angela is that she had come through a specialist and she had already had an MRI, (I would always speaking to your GP if you have persistent neck pain or headaches or come and see us!).