Physiotherapy for Neck Pain: Stretching or Strengthening?

Physiotherapy for Neck Pain: Stretching or Strengthening?

Many people in our clinic complain of neck and upper back tightness. Often, this results from a lack of muscle strength in the muscles whose job it is to hold our head up throughout the day.

Your head weighs between 7-9% of your total body weight! This can equate to roughly 5kg or more, depending on your size. This essentially means our neck muscles need to be strong enough to hold 5kg (or more) for the entire duration of the day and back it up, day in and day out.

Historically, it was thought that our neck muscles get sore when we were using them too much, that all types of strengthening exercises such as shrugging were to be avoided at all costs, and that stretching was the only way to manage the pain. Strengthening exercises such as shrugging are effective ways to develop an adequate level of strength that solves the underlying problem rather than treating the symptoms.

Our physiotherapists are experts at differentiating between a ‘’tight” or weak muscle and can ensure that you are prescribed an individualised exercise program that will work for you!

Physiotherapy for Neck Pain: Stretching or Strengthening?

What causes neck pain?

  • Standing or sitting with poor posture.
  • Poor sleeping posture.
  • Damage to the neck’s vertebrae, spinal cord, or nerves.
  • Injuries like muscle strains and whiplash.
  • Bone or joint abnormalities.
  • Wear and tear in the neck bones, a natural part of ageing.
  • An infection.
  • Bone damage or fractures caused by osteoporosis.
  • A pinched nerve.
  • Meningitis.
  • Cancer.
  • Arthritis.

On rare occasions, neck pain can be caused by a severe medical condition. Heart problems, for example, could lead to pain running up the front of the neck. There may be an underlying problem with a neck artery that is causing rapid onset and rapid deterioration of upper neck pain and very severe headaches, requiring immediate medical attention.

Common symptoms of neck pain

  • Pain radiating down the shoulders, arms, and hands.
  • Sharp pain in the neck.
  • Migraines or headaches.
  • Muscle tension that limits head movement.

Growing symptoms of neck pain are cause for concern and should be evaluated further by a physiotherapist.

Physiotherapy for Neck Pain: Stretching or Strengthening? - Enhance Physiotherapy

Do you need to stretch or strengthen to relieve neck pain?

Stability is of paramount importance when it comes to treating chronic neck pain. Enhancing your strength is key to creating stability. A great deal of chronic neck stiffness can be reduced by strengthening the muscles that surround and support the neck.

While we will cover some light stretching options, remember that the combination is crucial to always counteract the stretching with strength. The goal is to be flexible and strong at the same time!

Does physiotherapy work for neck pain?

Physiotherapists are highly skilled in determining the root cause of neck pain conditions.  

The source of pain or injury often extends far beyond the affected body part or muscle. The fastest way to find neck pain relief is to see a physiotherapist. One of our highly skilled physiotherapists will work with you to relieve your pain and improve your function. The first step is to assess the entire body

We address your entire body and lifestyle. Your physiotherapist will explain the mechanisms and structures causing your neck pain symptoms during your physical assessment. 

Our next step is to manage your limitations. Diagnosis differs from case to case. Some people with neck pain have entirely different limitations than others.

Therefore, an effective recovery program should be tailored to your body’s needs, not just any generic exercise routine you can find online. 

How do you do neck physiotherapy?

Physiotherapy is one of the most common treatments for chronic neck pain. The goal of most physiotherapy programs for neck pain is to reduce pain and stiffness sufficiently to begin an exercise program for strengthening and stretching.

Neck pain can be treated with massage, joint mobilisation, stretching and strengthening exercises, and correcting poor posture or abnormal movement.

Physiotherapy treatment techniques

  • Manual therapy that involves joint mobilisations and massages to improve joint mobility and stiffness.
  • Advice on postural analysis, ergonomics, and assistive devices such as pillows, desks, and supports for the workplace, the car, or sleeping.
  • A targeted exercise program designed to improve postural strength and reduce overstressed muscles.
  • Strengthening deep neck stabilisers.
  • Pain management such as ice and heat.
  • Advice on stress management, mindfulness, and lifestyle.
Physiotherapy for Neck Pain: Stretching or Strengthening?

Final thoughts on Physiotherapy for Neck Pain

Neck pain can be extremely debilitating, with some people also experiencing limited neck movement, headaches, thoracic back stiffness or pain and numbness down their arm.

Our goal at Enhance Physio is to treat your neck issues long-term, not just treat the symptoms. Our holistic approach is designed to relieve your aches and pains as quickly and safely as possible.  

Without a comprehensive assessment by a physiotherapist, you may hinder your healing long-term. 

Please book an appointment with one of our physiotherapists at Enhance Physio today to discuss your neck pain.



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