Some of the most common causes of neck pain include sleeping on your neck wrong, sitting or standing for prolonged periods with bad posture—especially from leaning over too much, performing repetitive movements, and carrying a heavy backpack, purse, or briefcase. Neck pain can also develop from conditions like osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or from sudden injuries that may cause whiplash or other problems in the neck.
These conditions variably lead to pain, muscle tightness and spasms, a decreased ability to move your head, and headaches. Some individuals may experience complete or partial relief after performing simple home remedies and avoiding further aggravation of the spine, but for many others, they continue to be affected by painful symptoms that usually hinder their enjoyment of life.
For patients that fail to improve on their own, the next step is usually to consult with a healthcare professional, and many will go to their primary care doctor first. Doctors may recommend medication, additional testing, a referral to a specialist, or some combination of these interventions. Many of these options are costly, may have side effects, and often have limited scientific proof of effectiveness.
Physical therapy, on the other hand, has been supported by an abundance of research that has found it to be effective for reducing patients’ costs and their use of healthcare. It is also generally recommended that these patients see a physical therapist sooner rather than later, but there is a lack of research on the direct relationship between these variables. Therefore, a recent study was conducted to investigate how seeing a physical therapist at different points in time affected patient costs and healthcare use. The conclusion states:
This study has found an association with the timing of physical therapy consultation on healthcare utilization and costs, where delayed and late physical therapy consultation is associated with increased costs and overall healthcare utilization, particularly of healthcare services with conflicting evidence for effectiveness.
Based on these findings, patients with neck pain should strongly consider seeing a physical therapist, and preferably sooner rather than later. Thus, if you’re currently dealing with neck pain, we recommend consulting your local physical therapy first before your primary care provider. Taking this approach will allow you to get started on a personalized path to recovery right away while avoiding additional referrals, diagnostic tests, and other interventions that are usually expensive and unnecessary.