Back pain may be the most common reason for doctors’ visits in the United States, but neck pain isn’t far behind. A common cause of cervical spine pain is a sprain involving one or more of the ligaments and related soft tissues in this area. Luckily, most neck sprains respond well to non-surgical treatments. Having a better understanding of cervical spine sprains can help you determine when to seek treatment and what can be done to minimize the risk of experiencing this type of neck pain.
What Causes Neck Sprains?
Neck sprain is often caused by issues with posture or body mechanics. Any movements or positions that involve craning the neck or twisting it at awkward angles can throw off alignment and place the weight of your head on the ligaments in your cervical spine. If muscles are affected, it’s referred to as neck strain.
Caused by a sudden backward or forward motion, whiplash is another common cause of neck sprains. While often associated with car accidents, it can also occur due to a hard impact while playing sports or any other activity where jarring motions may occur. Any of the following symptoms may be experienced with a cervical spine sprain:
- Neck stiffness
- Sharp pain in the neck area
- Reduced range of motion
- Swelling or redness
- Neck spasms
- Headaches or dizziness
- Pain extending to shoulders
- Burning sensations
How Are Neck Sprains Diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing a cervical spine sprain is a physical exam that includes a discussion of your symptoms. You may be asked what movements seem to trigger pain or asked to gently move your neck. In most cases, a diagnosis of neck sprain can be made with only an examination. If symptoms are severe or suggesting other possible neck issues, image tests (X-rays, MRIs, CT scans) may be done.
What Are the Treatment Options?
If initial remedies like resting or modifying movements aren’t providing relief, pain or anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed, especially if you are experiencing occasional neck spasms. If a neck sprain is coupled with underlying issues such as nerve irritation and damage to one or more spinal discs, a cervical epidural steroid injection may be recommended. You may need to wear a brace or soft cervical collar to limit neck movement as ligaments heal. Additional treatment suggestions might include:
- Neck strengthening exercises
- Applying ice or cold packs at 15 to 20 minute intervals
- Applying heat to stimulate circulation and promote tissue healing (moist heat from a warm bath or shower may also provide relief)
- Massage therapy
- Education on how to enhance posture
Pressure of soft neck tissues can be eased with simple neck stretches if tension is felt. Being mindful of “tech neck,” the tendency to bend the head down to use mobile devices, can also prevent ligaments from becoming strained or irritated, as can adjusting computer monitors to eye level, sitting in a more upright position in chairs or while driving, and using a supportive pillow that doesn’t throw off your head-neck alignment. See your doctor if your neck pain is sticking around or getting worse. You can also schedule an appointment with a spine surgeon who may recommend one of many fusion procedures or spinal fusion alternatives.
At The Spine Institute, we specialize in minimally invasive procedures such as Mobi-C disc replacement, spinal cord stimulation, and vertebroplasty surgery. Give us a call today at 310-828-7757 and take the first steps toward living a pain-free life.