Physical Therapy for Neck Pain: What to Expect

Is your neck pain negatively impacting your quality of life? It could be time to seek the help of a physical therapist. Whether you have whiplash from an auto accident, or “tech neck” from staring at a screen all day, physical therapy can restore motion and relieve pain. 

Progressive Spine & Sports Medicine is located in Ramsey, New Jersey. Dr. Kevin McElroy and Dr. Steven Ferrer provide physical therapy that goes beyond the basics for superior results and pain relief. Here’s what to expect from the two phases of physical therapy: Passive and Active.

Types of Passive Physical Therapy

Passive therapy modalities are typically used immediately before active physical therapy modalities. Passive therapy works on the body without requiring motion. Passive modalities include:

Heat and cold

Ice or cold packs can reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Heat packs can increase blood flow and loosen stiffness in your neck. Your doctor might recommend alternating the two methods based on your specific symptoms at any given time.


Massaging the back of the head, nape of the neck, and upper shoulder and back can help reduce neck pain and stiffness. Massage loosens muscles and makes it easier to turn the head in either direction, so it’s a good modality to use before physical exercises.


A mild electrical current can be delivered through wires attached topically to the painful area of your neck. These signals can stimulate muscle reactions and help absorption of pain relief creams through the skin. Use of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit sends electrical pulses to sensory nerves just under your skin. This disrupts pain signals and alters them, so your brain receives more pleasurable signals (buzzing or warmth instead of shooting pain.)


Sending high-energy soundwaves deep into the neck tissues with a handheld device can also relieve pain and relax muscles. Your doctor will rub a cool gel on your neck and then guide the device across the surface of your skin. You’ll feel relaxed and might experience a warm sensation.   

Types of Active Physical Therapy

When treating neck pain, the primary focus of physical therapy is to improve the neck’s strength Active exercises work the neck and surrounding muscles, strengthening them and increasing flexibility.

Chin tuck

The chin tuck helps gently stretch the muscles at the back of the neck, restoring motion to the neck and reducing pain associated with tightness and stiffness. Keep your face level and staring straight ahead, then draw your chin straight back toward your neck. You’ll feel a slight pull on the back of your neck.

Neck roll

Rolling your neck on your spine can help relax the entire circumference of your neck and allow smoother, pain-free movement. Your doctor will help you safely and slowly roll your head forward to look down, to the side, back to look at the ceiling, and over to the other side before returning to a normal upright position.

Head tilt and turn

This neck exercise involves tilting your head so one ear nears your shoulder, then slowly returning to an upright position before tilting the other way. Your doctor may also ask you to turn your head slowly as far as you can to look to your left, then hold for a few seconds before turning the other way to look right.

Other exercises

If indicated, your physical therapy team may also recommend core exercises and aerobic activity. Additionally, they may suggest upper body motions to help loosen muscle groups connected to your neck. 

A complete physical therapy session should take at least 45 minutes. When you’re done, you can resume your daily activities with no downtime. 

To schedule a consultation with Progressive Spine & Sports Medicine, call 201-201-0443, or request an appointment online.

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