Simply waking up with a stiff or sore neck doesn’t mean you have a sprain. Typically, neck sprains occur when there’s some type of forceful motion or movement that stretches soft tissues within this area beyond their normal range of motion. Unless the motion or movement affects cervical vertebrae and joints, neck sprains are usually minor inconveniences that are fairly easy to treat. What you don’t want to do is ignore this type of pain altogether. Here’s what you need to know about diagnosing and treating neck sprains.
As mentioned above, some type of trauma is usually the cause of a neck sprain. For instance, athletes participating in contact sports such as football or soccer tend to be more susceptible to neck sprains. It’s also possible for a minor instance of whiplash to result in sprained neck tissues, even if bones and joints in the neck aren’t affected.
Other people sometimes develop this source of neck-related pain from a forceful sneeze or after sleeping in an awkward position that places prolonged stress on soft tissues in the neck. Symptoms suggesting you may have a neck sprain include:
• Pain directly within the neck area
• Numbness extending to the arms and shoulders
• Pain affected by movement
• Fatigue or dizziness
• Muscle weakness or tenderness within the neck area
Note: More serious symptoms may include difficulty walking and bladder control issues, both of which require immediate medical attention
Diagnosing a neck sprain usually starts with a physical examination and a discussion of symptoms along with an account of what the patient believes happened to trigger the resulting symptoms. Special tests may be done to check for muscle weakness and evaluate range of motion of the neck to get a better idea of which tissues are likely affected by the sprain. Image tests aren’t usually necessary to diagnose a neck sprain. However, X-rays, CT scans, and similar image tests may be ordered if there’s the possibility a fracture may have occurred or if cervical disc or joint damage is suspected. If the pain is due to a bulging or diseased cervical disc, treatment may include replacing the damaged disc with a Mobi-C artificial disc. Los Angeles residents should be sure to consult a spinal health specialist if neck pain is severe or continues without relief for a prolonged period.
Most neck sprains are treated with conservative (non-surgical) methods. In addition to the use of anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxers to bring down tissue swelling and ease irritation, treatment may involve rest or activity modification for a brief time to allow tissues to heal and applying ice to the affected area for 10–15 minutes several times throughout the day. Some people with neck sprains also benefit from various forms of physical therapy, such as:
• Range of motion exercises
• Gentle neck stretches
• Massage therapy
• Combined heat/cold therapy techniques
Discomfort related to a neck sprain often goes away within a few days or weeks. With more serious soft tissue irritation, it may take 3–4 months or so to experience full relief. Should symptoms persist beyond this point or worsen, see what your doctor or a spine specialist has to say.
If the information above leads you to suspect you have a neck sprain, make sure to practice self-care, and don’t hesitate to consult a Los Angeles spine surgeon if your symptoms worsen or continue for more than a few days. The expert physicians at The Spine Institute lead the industry in diagnosing and treating neck and back pain with the most innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology. To schedule a consultation, call us today at 310-828-7757.