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Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

Pulled neck muscle or neck strain is a condition where there is injury to the muscles and tendons which support and help in movement of the head and neck. The neck is a part of body which has the ability for a wide range of motion and this makes it less stable and more prone to injury than other parts of body.[1] The neck comprises of many vital anatomic structures such as the airway (breathing tube), spinal cord, and blood vessels supplying the brain. Usually Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain Injuries do not involve serious injuries to these vital structures. Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck strain injuries are also commonly not associated with fractures or dislocations of the cervical bones.[2]

Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain

Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strains are the injuries to the muscles and tendons which help in neck movement. Other injuries to non-moving structures like ligaments, joint capsules, bursae, nerves, blood vessels and cartilage are known as sprains. Both neck sprains and strains may include tears to the ligament and muscles of the neck and other related structures. There may also be injury to the cervical nerves due to stretching or compression.

Causes of Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain

Injury to the neck causes Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain. These injuries commonly occur due to indirect trauma such as hyperextension or hyperflexion of the neck (whiplash injuries). Extreme rotation and compression of the neck may also result in Neck Strain. Some of the common causes of neck injuries resulting in Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain are:

  • Automobile accidents are largely responsible for many whiplash injuries, as they often cause hyperextension or hyperflexion of the neck.
  • Individuals having occupation which require repetitive or prolonged neck extension are more prone to suffering from Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain Injury.
  • Wrong or abnormal posture when awake or sleeping may also cause Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain.[3]

Signs and Symptoms of Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain

  • Pain is the main symptom of pulled neck muscle or neck strain.
  • Immediate pain at the time of injury.
  • Patient may not be able to perform daily work or activities.
  • Symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling, dizziness and loss of coordination are indicative of injury to nerves.
  • Stiffness of the neck which may radiate into the lower back.
  • There may be difficulty in chewing, swallowing, and breathing; however, these symptoms are rare.[4]

Serious Symptoms of Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain

  • Acute and constant pain.
  • Severe neck pain at night.
  • Persistent and severe spasms of neck muscles.
  • Difficulty in performing daily activities.
  • Weakness.
  • Numbness.
  • Tingling or loss of function, especially in the upper extremities.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Dizziness.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
  • Decreased hearing.

Serious Symptoms Indicating Injury to the Spinal Cord

  • Bowel or bladder retention.
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence.
  • Inability to urinate.
  • Weakness in the legs or loss of ability to walk.
  • Loss of balance.
  • Vertigo or dizziness.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).[5]

Investigations To Diagnose Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain

  • Medical history and physical examination.
  • Neuromuscular testing helps in determining if there are any injuries to the nerves and joints of the neck.
  • X-rays help in assessing the trauma to the cervical spine.
  • CT scan for assessing complex fractures, dislocations, disc protrusions, disease of the vertebrae and spinal stenosis.
  • Myelography (imaging of the spinal cord).
  • MRI.
  • Discography.
  • Radionuclide scanning.[6]

Treatment For Pulled Neck Muscle or Neck Strain

  • A cervical collar is beneficial for moderate pain.
  • Rest is important.
  • Placing a small pillow under the nape of the neck helps in giving proper neutral positioning.
  • Application of dry or moist heat helps in relieving muscle spasm.
  • NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, helps in relieving pain and inflammation.[7]
  • Opioids, such as codeine, can be given for acute pain.
  • Muscle relaxants are also helpful.
  • Patient should try to guard the neck against extension, as this will make the pain worse.
  • Physical therapy, such as cervical traction, is helpful for persistent pain.


Also Read:

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 8, 2022

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