What is a neck sprain?
The seven bones of spinal column in the neck, called cervical vertebrae, are connected to each other by ligaments and muscles — the strong bands of tissue which act like a thick rubber bands. When a tear or a sprain (stretch) occur in one or more of these soft tissues due to a sudden movement like a hard fall or a a motor vehicle collision, it can cause the neck to bend to an extreme position. A neck sprain can occur without any visible injury as well.
What are the causes of neck sprain?
The causes of neck sprain include:
- Tension and strain in the muscle resulting from poor posture, working at the desk for long hours, sleeping with the neck in a wrong position, etc.
- Injuries resulting from falls, car accidents, or sports where the muscles and ligaments of the neck are forced to stretch beyond their normal range
- Lifting of heavy objects.
- Performing new and rigorous activities.
- Doing repetitive motions or activities.
- Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, and cancer
What are the symptoms of a neck sprain?
The symptoms of a neck sprain include:
- Pain in the back of the neck that worsens with movement.
- Headache at the back of the head.
- Muscle tightness or spasm.
- Stiffness in the neck or a reduced range of motion.
- Difficulty sleeping and concentrating.
- Increased irritability and fatigue.
- Tingling or weakness in the arms.
How is a neck sprain diagnosed?
The doctor may take complete medical history od a patient and perform a physical exam. The patient should also let the doctor know about any recent injuries or accidents. The treatment for neck sprain depends on the reason causing it. In addition to checking the medical history and physical exam, a person might also need to undergo one or more of the following imaging tests to help the doctor find out the cause of the neck sprain:
- Blood test
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Electromyography (EMG), a diagnostic test that lets the doctor examine the health of the muscles and the nerves controlling them
- Lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
How is neck sprain treated?
Certain home remedies to treat neck sprain are:
- Apply ice for the first few days. Following this, heat should be applied with a heating pad or a hot compress, or a hot shower should be taken.
- OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can be taken under the doctor’s advice.
- A small break should be taken from sporting activities that make the symptoms worse. Normal activities can be slowly resumed as symptoms ease.
- Neck exercises should be performed every day.
- The head should be slowly stretched in side-to-side and up-and-down motions.
- Proper posture should be practiced.
- Change the position frequently and do not stand or sit in the same position for a long time.
- Gentle neck massages can aid in recovery.
- A special neck pillow for sleeping can be used.
- A neck brace or collar should not be used without a doctor’s permission, as improper use can make symptoms worse.
Depending on the severity, other possible treatments that can help are:
- Ice and heat therapy
- Physical therapy
- Exercise, stretching
- Cervical neck traction
- Pain medication
- Corticosteroid injections
- Muscle relaxant medication
- Neck collar
- Antibiotics in case of an infection
- Treatment in a hospital if a condition is the result of meningitis or heart attack
- Surgery which is rarely required
Some of the alternative therapies for Neck Sprain include:
- Chiropractic treatment
- Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)
A licensed professional must be consulted while using these methods.
When is the right time to see the doctor?
If symptoms continue for more than a week, seek medical attention from a doctor. Also, consult a doctor if the following symptoms are displayed:
- Severe neck pain without any apparent reason
- A lump in the neck
- Fever or headache
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Swollen glands
- Pain radiating down the arms or legs
- A lack of ability to move the arms or hands
- A lack of ability to touch the chin to the chest
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
If a person has suffered an accident or fell hurting the neck, medical attention must be sought immediately.
Neck sprain is very common, and most people suffer from neck sprain due to poor posture and strain in the muscle. In these cases, the neck sprain should disappear if good posture is practiced and neck muscles are rested when they’re sore. An appointment with a doctor should be sought if the neck sprain isn’t improving with home remedies.