The neck houses the cervical vertebrae, which are seven in number; and are interconnected with ligaments, that are like strong bands of tissues. When compared to other parts of the spinal column, which are well enclosed; the cervical spine is covered with lesser number of muscles and ligaments, but are assigned with an extensive range of motion. This makes them more vulnerable to injuries, like neck sprain.
A neck sprain is defined as the stretching or tearing of the ligaments attached to the cervical spine. In a broader sense, a neck sprain may also include any injury to other structures in the region, like the nerves, joint capsules, bursae, cartilage, and blood vessels. Even though, the terms neck sprain and neck strain are used interchangeably, both the conditions are actually different. According to health experts, strains are injuries to tissues that move, like the muscles and tendons; whereas sprains are injuries to inert structures, like the ligaments and joints.
Causes and Symptoms
Neck sprain is often caused by forceful and sudden movements, where the ligaments in the neck are stretched beyond their limit. Such sudden movements cause the neck to extend and snap back forcefully, resulting in stretching or tearing of the ligaments. Sprains are most commonly associated with motor accidents, hard falls, or incidents that cause such sudden and forceful movements of the neck.
Symptoms of neck sprain include pain in the back of the neck. Such pain may worsen with movements. In some cases, the pain may aggravate after one or two days of the injury. The person may also experience pain and muscle spasms in the upper shoulder. Other symptoms are numbness and tingling in the hands, headache (more concentrated on the back side), neck stiffness, weakness, difficulty in sleeping and concentrating, and irritability. In some cases, symptoms, like sore throat, ringing in ears, and dizziness, may also develop.
Sprained Neck Treatment
Neck sprain symptoms can be mild to severe. While mild cases do not usually require medical attention, severe ones need immediate medical care. In case of a mild sprain, all you have to do is to apply ice packs, and take over-the-counter medication for pain and inflammation. Ice packs are considered the best for sprained neck relief, as they reduce inflammation. However, if there is no relief, or if the symptoms worsen, medical attention is needed.
Neck sprain is diagnosed through physical examination, and diagnostic tests, like X-rays. Usually, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers are used to treat the condition. Even muscle relaxants are prescribed to reduce spasms. Sometimes, the affected person has to wear a soft collar around the neck, so that the ligaments get sufficient rest and heal faster. Healing of neck sprain is a matter of time, and for that, adequate rest and proper treatment is needed. The doctor may also recommend massage therapy, ultrasound, neck traction, or neck exercises, as per the severity of the injury.
While mild cases of neck sprain require a few weeks for healing, severe ones may take longer. Rest and relaxation are very important as far as healing of a sprain is concerned. Neck exercises may also prove beneficial. If you experience neck sprain with mild symptoms, try the remedial measures, or consult your health care provider. In case of severe sprained neck symptoms, you need immediate medical attention.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.