Neck Sprain Injury Symptoms and Treatments

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A neck sprain refers to a stretched ligament or muscle in the neck. Neck sprains are commonly associated with whiplash injury. Whiplash can occur as a result of a car accident, playing a contact sport, riding amusement park rides or any sudden impact that forces the neck to extend beyond its normal range of motion and quickly snap back. The ligaments in the neck are stretch and tear, causing a lot of pain.


Symptoms don't always appear at first. Sometimes it takes 1 to 2 days after an injury occurs for the pain to appear. Common symptoms of a neck sprain include:

  • Pain in the neck that gets worse with movement
  • Neck stiffness that decreases range of motion in the neck
  • Muscle spasms or pain in the upper back and/or shoulders
  • A headache, typically in the back of the head
  • Sore throat
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tingling, numbness or weakness in the hands or arms

If you notice these symptoms after a whiplash-type incident, see a doctor for an evaluation to rule out a more serious problem, such as damage to the spinal cord. Arm or leg weakness, difficulty walking and the inability to control the bladder or bowels are signs of a spinal cord injury.

If you have immediate neck pain after the incident, go to an emergency room.

Neck Sprain Symptoms and Severity


It is incredibly important to have a physician evaluate your injury to rule out anything serious. A doctor will conduct a physical examination to check your range of motion, reflexes and muscle strength. Additional testing, such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs, can be used to confirm a diagnosis, though it's uncommon.


Treatment of neck sprain is the same as it is for other soft tissue injuries. General treatment includes rest, ice, compression, and elevation (R.I.C.E. therapy). Neck sprains can be quite painful and can take some time to heal, so you mean need to wear a soft cervical collar to help support the head and relieve pressure on the neck while ligaments heal.

Analgesics and anti-inflammatory medication can be used to reduce pain and swelling. Your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants to reduce muscle spasms. Icing the neck for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, for up to 3 days after injury will reduce pain and inflammation.

Wait to apply heat until you are out of the early stages of the injury. It will increase circulation and swelling. Gentle neck movement is also beneficial. Your physician may recommend simple exercises that work on the range of motion.

Most neck sprain symptoms decrease after 4 to 6 weeks. If pain persists, your doctor may administer local anesthetic injections. A more severe neck sprain can take even longer to fully heal. Full recovery can take up to 3 months. Because of this, it would be wise to avoid returning to a physical contact sport until you have been pain-free for several months. You may also benefit from seeing a physical therapist to ensure a safe and healthy return to exercise and physical activity.

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