Cervical Sprains

by Sharon Hopkins

Your cervical spine or neck is especially vulnerable to injury as it is a lot less stable than the other parts of your body and is capable of a wide range of motion. Neck strain injuries are caused when the muscles and tendons that support the neck are moved beyond their normal range. Neck sprains occur when the joints, ligaments, nerves or cartilage are injured or damaged. Tearing or stretching of soft tissue in the area of the neck causes both types of injuries - strains and sprains.

One of the most common causes of cervical sprains is whiplash. Whiplash occurs when the head and neck is extended forward and backwards beyond its normal range. Car accidents are responsible for most cases of whiplash. Imagine a person strapped to a car seat with a seat belt during a car accident. At the moment of impact, the head will either move forwards or backwards or from one side to another resulting in whiplash. Cervical sprains also occur when the force of the impact lands on top of the head and causes the neck to rotate or compress unnaturally. Apart from such accidents, people who perform repetitive activities are also prone to neck strain and injury. This could include activities such as straining the neck to use a computer for hours at a time or spending the day with a phone tucked between the shoulder and the neck. Bad posture and sleeping habits can lead to chronic cervical complaints as well.

The first symptom of a cervical sprain is pain. Following an accident, the pain can appear immediately or may appear even after a few hours or days. Cervical pain is aggravated during any form of activity and is reduced when resting or sleeping. Other symptoms include swelling, stiffness, and a restricted range of motion. If you experience symptoms such as numbness or tingling, a feeling of confusion, weakness, dizzy spells, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, contact your doctor immediately.

If your cervical pain is a result of an accident, you should contact your doctor or an emergency room as soon as possible. If the neck pain appears suddenly without any prior injury, immediate medical care is needed as well. In order to diagnose a cervical sprain or strain, your doctor will perform a detailed physical examination and may also require tests such as x-rays, CT scans, or an MRI.

Treatment


While most cases of cervical pain can be treated at home with the proper self-care, it is important to be aware of your symptoms and consult with a doctor if the pain does not cease in a few days. If the pain is mild to moderate, bed rest and the use of a cervical collar may be enough for a speedy recovery. NSAIDs or painkillers can help reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant if there is persistent stiffness or your movement is impaired. When sleeping, use a small pillow to keep the neck in a neutral position and avoid any form of strenuous exercise or physical labor while the injury heals. Other remedies for a cervical sprain include:

  • Alternate icing and heating of the affected area to relax muscles and reduce inflammation.
  • Physiotherapy and exercises to help strengthen the neck muscles and improve the range of movement. Massage therapy and ultrasound treatments are also combined with physiotherapy exercises for the best results.
  • Corticosteroid injections or the use of a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine may be needed in cases of severe pain and immobility.
  • For severe neck injury cases, traction or immobilization may be required.
  • Patient education about proper posture and neck strengthening exercises can help prevent neck pain and improve the health of the spine.

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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