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Manual Therapy for Neck Pain

Treatment Overview

Manual therapy is a general term for treatment done mostly with the hands. The goals of manual therapy include relaxation, less pain, and more flexibility. Manual therapy can include:

Massage.

Pressure is applied to the soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles. Massage can help relax muscles, increase circulation, and ease pain in the soft tissues.

Mobilization.

Slow, measured movements are used to twist, pull, or push bones and joints into position. This can help loosen tight tissues around a joint and help with flexibility and alignment.

Manipulation.

Pressure is applied to a joint. It can be done with the hands or a special device. The careful, controlled force used on the joint can range from gentle to strong, and from slow to rapid.

You can see a chiropractor, osteopathic doctor, massage therapist, or physical therapist for different types of manual therapy (bodywork).

Why It Is Used

Manual therapy (or bodywork) is sometimes used for neck pain. Manual therapy includes massage, mobilization, and manipulation of the muscles, bones, and joints.

Manipulation is not recommended if you have nerve-related problems that are very severe or getting worse.

Before you try manual therapy for neck pain, think about the following:

  • First, try home treatment, like heat, ice, pain relievers, and mild exercise or stretching. These things may help your neck pain the best.
  • If you have severe pain or your symptoms are getting worse, or if you're getting new symptoms, consider talking to your doctor. Manipulation may not be the right treatment for you.
  • Good manual therapy will include information on self-care and strength exercises.
  • If you choose to see a health care provider who does manual therapy, find one who is willing to work with your other health care providers.

Do your research. Not all manual therapy is the same. And there isn't a good way to tell what will be helpful and what won't. If you decide to try it, talk to a couple of different manual therapy providers before you choose and get treated by one.

How Well It Works

A review of multiple studies shows that exercise and mobilization, either separate or used together, are likely to be helpful in the treatment of nonspecific neck pain. (Pain is "nonspecific" when its cause isn't clear.) A combination of exercise and manual therapy is likely to work the best.footnote 1 And manual therapy may be better than medicine for relieving nonspecific neck pain.footnote 2

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Bhagawati D, Gwilym S (2015). Neck pain with radiculopathy. BMJ Clinical Evidence. http://clinicalevidence.bmj.com/x/systematic-review/1103/overview.html. Accessed March 1, 2016.
  2. Bronfort G, et al. (2012). Spinal manipulation, medication, or home exercise with advice for acute and subacute neck pain: A randomized trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 156(1, Part 1): 1–10.

Credits

Current as of: March 17, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine