The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy


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Neck pain and whiplash

Neck pain may be caused by poor posture, arthritis or accidents. Whiplash is when the head is thrown violently forwards and back, as sometimes happens in car accidents. This summary explains how physiotherapy can help.

What is neck pain?

Neck pain is a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) which also includes back pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI), now known as Work Relevant Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD). MSDs are one of the main causes of people being off work sick.

Physiotherapy is extremely effective with MSDs. In one study, 80 per cent of people who had physiotherapy for their MSD were able to carry on working and did not have to go off sick.

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How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapists are highly skilled at supporting people with neck pain. They may give you hands-on treatment such as manual therapy and acupuncture. Your physio will probably advise you on suitable exercises and pain relief, as well as tips on how to prevent further problems.

Physios work in the NHS, privately, for charities and in the work-place through occupational health schemes. They are the third largest health profession after doctors and nurses. Physiotherapy has been shown to work through clinical studies and research and is a treatment you can trust.

What will happen when I see a physiotherapist?

Do you or someone you care for need treatment? 
Find a Physio

When you see a physio, they will assess your problem and give you advice. They may give you a physical treatment. Everything you tell the physio will be completely confidential.

So that your physio can have a good look at your neck, they may need you to remove some clothes. It’s a good idea to dress comfortably and wear suitable underwear.

How can I help myself?

There are exercises that can reduce your neck pain. There are also ways to help prevent it coming back. The right sort of exercise, as advised by a physiotherapist, can make a big difference. Lifestyle changes, such as being more active and improving your posture, may help.

Top tips to prevent neck pain

  • Check your posture, so that you hold yourself comfortably upright
  • Gently strengthen your neck muscles, to help support your head
  • Take regular breaks from desk work, driving or any activity where your neck is held in one position
  • Keep your neck active and mobile to prevent stiffness but avoid bending your neck back though
  • Avoid reading for long in bed or using too many pillows
  • Shrug and lower your shoulders to ease tight muscles
  • Check your eyesight in case reading is making you stoop
  • Practice relaxation if you are prone to stress, to reduce tension across your shoulders and neck

Guidance and evidence for physiotherapy 

Links and further information


The content on this page is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation. The CSP is not responsible for the content of any external sites, nor should selection be seen as an endorsement of them.


Last reviewed

13 June 2014
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