What is Neck Sprain?
A sprain occurs whenever there is an over-stretching of the ligaments or tendons. A sprain may occur in any part of the body like the muscles of the thighs, ankle, shoulders, and neck. A Neck Sprain is said to occur when the ligaments and the tendons in the neck get stretched beyond their flexibility causing a variety of symptoms like pain and restricted movement of the neck.
Neck, which in medical terminology is known as the cervical spine, is a very vital part of the human body. It protects the spinal cord, supports the upper part of the body which is the head, and allows the head to move from one side to the other thus giving an individual a better view of things around him or her. Because of this anatomy that the neck has, it makes it vulnerable to various injuries which may stem from very common things that an individual does on a daily basis and result in a Neck Sprain.
What Causes Neck Sprain?
Neck Sprain can be caused due to various reasons like sitting awkwardly in front of the computer looking at the screen for prolonged periods of time, sleeping on a pillow that is too hard or too high causing the neck tendons and ligaments to get stretched causing a Neck Sprain. It can also be caused by a sudden jerk of the neck to one side as a result of a motor vehicle accident, most commonly known as a whiplash injury.
A Neck Sprain may also be caused during a ride at an amusement park. Sporting injuries like boxing may also cause Neck Sprain. The pain caused by a Neck Sprain tends to radiate down to the shoulders as well as the back of the head. An individual may also feel dizzy and lightheaded after a Neck Sprain.
Some of the potential causes of a Neck Sprain are:
- Spending prolonged periods of time with the neck in a hunched over posture such as when driving or while sitting in front of a computer.
- Holding the phone between the shoulder and neck also tends to put too much strain on the ligaments of the neck and may cause Neck Sprain.
- Sleeping on a pillow that is too high or too hard may also put strain on the neck resulting in a Neck Sprain
- If an individual is carrying a heavy item on one side of the body also tends to put additional pressure on the ligaments of the neck causing Neck Sprain.
- Whiplash injury from an automobile accident or a simple slip and fall on the ice may also cause Neck Sprain.
What are the Symptoms of Neck Sprain?
The main presenting feature of a Neck Sprain is that of pain or discomfort especially with any sort of movement of the neck. An individual with Neck Sprain will also experience severe neck stiffness and will have restricted range of motion of the neck. He or she may also experience pain at the back of the head. Additionally an individual may also experience the following symptoms:
- Excessive fatigue
- Sometimes, numbness in the hands.
If these symptoms are experienced immediately after an automobile accident or a bout of boxing then an emergent evaluation with a physician is recommended in order to rule out a more serious damage to the spinal cord. If there is a spinal cord injury then the individual may also experience weakness of the lower extremities, bowel and bladder control problems, and problems with ambulation. In such cases, it is recommended that the individual go straight to the nearest emergency room to get evaluated.
How is Neck Sprain Diagnosed?
A Neck Sprain can be easily diagnosed by the physician by doing just a simple examination after taking a detailed history as to when and how the injury occurred, the duration of the symptoms, occupational history to ascertain whether the patient drives or sits in front of the computer for long periods of time. During physical examination, the physician will ask the patient to move the neck from one side to the other and see if he or she experiences any pain or not.
The physician may also check the sitting posture of the patient and the posture of the neck during this time. A muscle testing of the arms will also be performed to see whether there is any evidence of weakness. A reflex and sensory examination of the upper extremities may also be performed to rule out a spinal cord injury.
To further rule out any damage to the spinal cord the physician may perform radiological studies like a CT scan or an MRI of the neck to look at the internal structures. Once all these studies are done and there is no evidence of a spinal cord injury then the diagnosis is confirmed of a Neck Sprain.
How is Neck Sprain Treated?
Neck Sprain is a condition which needs time and not interventions to heal. Just like sprains and strains in other parts of the body, Neck Sprain is also treated in the same way.
A conservative home treatment for neck sprain would involve wearing a cervical collar to immobilize the neck so as to calm down the inflammation and allow the ligaments and tendons to heal.
For pain and discomfort caused due to sprained neck, pain medications will be prescribed along with NSAIDs like Tylenol to help calm down the pain and inflammation.
To calm down the muscle spasms caused due to Neck Sprain, antispasmodics may be prescribed.
Ice and heat therapy for neck sprain will be recommended in which the patient can apply ice to the neck area for 15-20 minutes two to three times a day alternating with application of heat for 15-20 minutes two to three times a day. It should be noted here that both ice and heat cannot be applied simultaneously as it may cause blisters. This will help calm down the inflammation and swelling and reduce the pain and discomfort associated with neck sprain.
The patient will also be asked to perform gentle massages to the neck region to facilitate healing of the ligaments and tendons and reduce the stiffness caused due to Neck Sprain.
Cervical traction is another effective way to treat Neck Sprain which is preferred by physicians.
Recovery Period of Neck Sprain
Following the above mentioned treatments, it may take about three weeks for mild neck sprain to be heal, while it may take a bit longer close to about six weeks to completely recover from severe neck sprain.