Is a Neck Strain or Sprain causing my neck pain?

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Is a Neck Strain or Sprain causing my neck pain?

Neck Strains & Sprains: Symptoms & Treatment Options

Just as we can suffer a strain or sprain in other parts of our body, the neck is also vulnerable to torn muscle fibers and stretched or torn ligaments. Luckily, neck strains & sprains are generally mild, with symptoms commonly lasting less than a month. Because of the mild nature of most neck strains and sprains, many patients can find relief and restored mobility with noninvasive or nonsurgical treatments.

Many conditions can cause neck strains and sprains. Repetitive stressful movements; sudden movement in any direction, such as whiplash; even something as simple as poor posture are all common sources of neck strains or sprains.

But what exactly is the difference between a muscle strain or sprain? Muscle tissue is fibrous, and any movement that causes a tear in one or more of these fibers is known as a muscle strain. Muscle strains can be painful; however, as is especially true with the small muscles in the neck, symptoms don’t usually persist for longer than a few weeks at most.

A violent or repetitive movement can also injure the tissue that connects our spinal vertebrae. Damage to the ligaments by way of stretching or tearing is called a ligament sprain. In contrast, these injuries are generally more debilitating than muscular strains and require more time to heal.

Other common causes of neck sprains and strains not listed above include: falls, failing to warm up before engaging in physical activity (such as weight lifting), head trauma, or certain sports maneuvers (such as blocking an offensive player).

Symptoms of Neck Strains & Sprains

Neck sprains and strains can range in severity from barely noticeable to utterly debilitating. Depending upon the severity of the injury, your condition may be accompanied by pinched nerves or cervical radiculopathy. Your symptoms, therefore, will vary depending upon the extent of muscular damage and the specific nerves that are affected. Common symptoms of neck strains and sprains include:

  • Neck pain, throbbing, tenderness, or localized swelling
  • Neck stiffness or limited range of pain-free movement
  • Neurological symptoms, such as tingling or numbness in the arms, shoulders, or hands
  • Neck cramps or spasms
  • Jaw pain, ringing in the ears, dizziness, headaches, or nausea
  • In emergent cases, loss of bowel or bladder control may occur

Worried that your symptoms may indicate a neck strain or sprain? To schedule an appointment with one of our award-winning Top Doctors, contact our team of patient advocates at (973) 538-0900.

Diagnosing Your Neck Strains & Sprains

To diagnose your condition, your doctor may assess your reflexes and evaluate you for numbness, weakness, or signs of brain injury. X-rays or CT scans may be used to confirm a diagnosis and eliminate other serious conditions. Sometimes, electromyography (or nerve conduction studies) may be performed to determine if there is a muscle issue. Other diagnostic methods include: measuring the range of motion in your neck; palpating your spine to search for the presence of inflammation or muscle spasms; or neurological examination of your sensory or motor responses.

Neck Strains & Sprains Treatment Options

Conservative Therapies

Since neck strains and sprains are generally mild, nonsurgical treatments such as hot/cold therapies, movement pattern modification, stretching and exercise, or pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs are usually sufficient to provide long-term pain relief.

Physical Therapy

In more moderate cases of neck strains and sprains, your doctor may recommend that you complete a regimen of physical therapy, or guided exercise. Physical therapy may be combined with other treatment modalities such as deep tissue massage or chiropractic manipulation.

If your neck pain is caused by a damaged or herniated disc, your surgeon may suggest a microdiscectomy to eliminate your pain. During this procedure, ruptured disc material is extracted to make space for compressed nerves.

During this procedure, your surgeon replaces a worn-out or cracked disc with an artificial model that enables you to retain flexibility in your neck. A minimally invasive intervention, this procedure can be performed on an outpatient basis.

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