Neck Strains / Neck Sprains

In order to understand this topic it is important to understand the basic anatomy of the spine. Please review the section on basic spine anatomy before reading this section. To understand how the spine works, please review the section on the basic spine biomechanics.

Neck Pain
Injurymap, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What is a neck strain?

The term “neck strain” is used to describe an injury to the muscles and/or ligaments of the neck. In this article the term neck strain is used but the term “neck sprain” can also be used to mean the same thing.

What are the functions of the muscles and the ligaments of the neck?

The complex anatomy of the lumbar region of the spine (neck) allows it to perform various functions. The lumbar region supports the weight of the body, protects the spinal cord and it allows the body to move by providing attachment sites for muscles. The muscles located closest to the vertebrae (neck bones) help to provide stability to the spine. The muscles located further from the vertebrae play a role in movement of the spine.

Ligaments are like strong ropes that help connect bones and provide stability to joints. Six major ligament groups run down the spine and the low back. These ligaments attach to each vertebra and form a strong support system for the spine and the neck.

How do neck strains occur?

Neck strains can occur as a result of motor vehicle accidents, during sporting activities or as a result of repetitive stress at work. In some cases the muscles and ligaments around the neck can become injured during a single activity, or the neck can become injured during a repetitive task.

What does a neck strain feel like?

There is usually pain and tenderness around the muscles or ligaments that are injured. The affected muscles may also tighten up to protect the injured area. People with just neck strains usually do not complain of the following problems:

• Changes in the way their bowels and/or bladder work.
• Weakness in their arm muscles.
• Loss of arm muscle endurance.
• Pain and numbness that travels down either arm.
• Pain that is made worse by sneezing or coughing.
• Pain that is associated with fevers, weight loss, or anything else that suggests that they are feeling unwell.
• Pain that consistently wakes them up at night.

People with these warning signs need to see a doctor about their neck pain right away.

How is a neck strain diagnosed?

The first step in the diagnosis of a neck strain is to obtain a good medical history and perform a physical examination. X-rays of the neck may help to rule out degenerative disc disease. X-rays may be completely normal. Depending on the severity of the problem, further tests such as MRI and CT scans may also be required to rule out other causes of neck pain.

What is the treatment for a neck strain?

In most cases, the damaged muscles and ligaments will begin to repair themselves. It is usually recommended that people consult with their doctor or physical therapist to help guide them back to health.

Available treatments include physiotherapy to learn proper movement patterns, education on activity modification, proper posture, and exercises. Physiotherapy may also include manual mobilization/manipulation of the affected area, and modalities such as gentle electrical currents and heat or ice to help with pain. Medications may also be an important part of the initial treatment. Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications and/or muscle relaxants.

After someone recovers from a neck strain it is important to maintain a healthy neck with proper posture, and exercises to maintain strong neck muscles. These measures may help to decrease the chance of another neck strain. Doctors and Physical Therapists that deal with people with neck strains can help outline an individualized treatment and recovery program.

What other information is available on neck strains?

Visit Back Pain Info / Neck Pain Info’s section on disc herniations for more information on this topic. Back Pain Info / Neck Pain Info’s links section has additional information on disc herniations and sciatica. Links have been provided to other websites as well as online medical journals. Visit Joint Pain Info. Com for information on other joint injuries and problems.