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Elbow Pain: Why Neck Exercises May Be The Solution

Author: CHKD Sports Medicine, Alexandra McVicker PT, DPT, OCS, MDT, GTS
Published Date: Wednesday, March 11, 2020

By Alexandra McVicker PT, DPT, OCS, MDT, GTS

Referred pain is pain that originates in one area of the body but is felt in another area. The nerves that provide feeling and strength to our limbs and trunk start at our spine. Sometimes pain in the arm or leg is actually caused by a problem in the spine. Therefore, a physical therapist may screen a patient’s neck and back to ensure that their symptoms aren’t coming from those parts of the body. This is especially important if the pain appeared for no reason, or if there was an accident that could have affected the spine.

The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy is a treatment method used by physical therapists to evaluate and treat pain in the spine or limbs. As part of an evaluation, the therapist will assess the patient’s range of motion, strength, and mobility in their spine, arms, and legs. The patient will then perform repeated movements of the spine and limbs in the areas where range of motion is affected. After the repeated movements, the therapist will re-examine for changes in pain or deficits in motion or strength. Going through this process helps to determine if the patient has a ‘directional preference.’ Directional preference is defined as a positive change in symptoms in response to a certain movement pattern. This directional preference can serve as a guide for exercises and treatment methods to help lessen symptoms and improve function.

When a patient is experiencing referred pain, we look for ‘centralization.’ Centralization is the movement of symptoms from an area further away from its origin to closer to the origin. For example, Suzie is complaining of upper arm and elbow pain. On exam, Suzie has limited range of motion in her neck. After doing repeated neck exercises, her elbow pain feels much better. Now her pain is mostly felt around the shoulder and upper arm. This is a good thing. It seems like Suzie’s pain is originating from her neck. As she continues to do her exercises, her pain should slowly be felt closer to the neck. And eventually, it should go away completely.

The McKenzie Method does not work for everyone. However, for patients who respond well, their recovery can be much faster than if the role of the in the patient’s issue was not addressed.

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About CHKD Sports Medicine

CHKD's sports medicine program offers the most comprehensive care for your young athlete. From diagnosis and treatment to customized rehabilitation plans, we specialize in physical therapy and injury prevention programs for active children and teens. Our team is composed of pediatric orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine specialists, physician assistants, certified athletic trainers and pediatric sports medicine physical therapists.