Neck pain due to a strain or sprain can be debilitating. Most of these injuries are very easy to treat and don’t require surgery unless there is a serious complication. A sprain is when a ligament is stretched or torn. A strain is when there is a tear in the muscle. The muscles and ligaments help maintain the stability of the spine. The ligaments are fibrous bands that connect the bones, and the tendons attach muscles to bones. Injuries to either can result in a loss of stability, which leads to even more severe or additional injuries.
Causes of Neck Strains and Sprains
Whiplash is a type of neck sprain that happens often, particularly in car accidents. The head snaps and hyperextension and hyperflexion occur. The ligaments, tendons, and muscles then become injured. The following are other causes of sprains and strains:
- Failing to warm up before engaging in physical activity
- Head trauma
- Certain sports maneuvers, such as blocking
- Poor posture
If you experience any of these causes and then have intense pain in your neck or immobility, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Simply hoping the problem goes away isn’t necessarily going to have that result. Everyday movements can cause a simple strain or sprain to become worse if it isn’t properly evaluated and treated by a medical professional.
Symptoms of Sprains and Strains
You need to seek medical help if you experience aching or throbbing, stiffness, localized swelling, muscle spasms, tenderness to the touch, and pain in the shoulders or upper back and arms. If you have whiplash, then you may experience jaw pain, dizziness, headaches, and ringing in the ears. The loss of bowel or bladder function indicates a serious problem and requires immediate medical attention.
Diagnosis and Treatment
An accurate diagnosis is important because the neck is such a sensitive area of the spine. The doctor may check your reflexes and evaluate you for numbness, weakness, and signs of brain injury. X-rays or a CT scan can be used to confirm a diagnosis and eliminate other serious conditions. Sometimes, electromyography may be performed to determine if there is a muscle issue. Other diagnostic methods include:
- Checking range of motion so that the amount of mobility in the neck can be measured
- Palpitation to feel the spine and detect inflammation or muscle spasm
- Neurological examination that tests sensory and motor responses and addresses any numbness
The common treatment options include rest, modification of activity, alternating ice and heat, pain medication, muscle relaxers, physical therapy, cervical bracing, and chiropractic care. If there is a serious issue with the neck, surgery may be required. It is important to keep in mind that neck pain can sometimes be a sign of a more serious issue. This is why it is important to not try to diagnose yourself or even treat yourself. What you treat yourself for could be something completely different than what is actually going on.