If you’ve ever slept in an unnatural position that throws off your head-neck alignment enough to cause morning neck pain, you’ve likely experienced a type of soft tissue injury that contributed to neck strain. Today, we’re going to focus on how soft tissue injuries can affect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in the cervical spine (neck) area.
Specifically, neck strain happens when neck muscles or tendons are torn or stretched beyond their normal range of motion. These soft tissues help the neck turn, twist, and bend upward and downward. They also provide support for the head and neck.
When these tissues are injured, they’re either irritated by tissue swelling (inflammation) or affected by fiber tears. If only neck ligaments are affected, this type of injury is technically referred to as a neck sprain. However, strains and sprains produce similar symptoms, which is why the two terms are often used interchangeably.
If your neck pain isn’t caused by a strain related to a soft tissue injury, it may be due to a bulging or diseased cervical disc. If so, 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 their neck pain is severe or continues without relief for a prolonged period.
Neck strains and sprains can range from mild to severe. For instance, if only a few muscle, tendon, or ligament fibers are irritated or torn, you might only have minor discomfort that goes away fairly quickly. However, if you’re in a car accident and experience whiplash that results in multiple muscle tears, you could have severe pain that takes longer to go away.
The upper trapezius (which runs from the skull to the upper back) and the levator scapulae (which connects the arms to the back) are the two neck muscles most commonly affected by neck strain. If you have either a strained or sprained neck, you may notice:
• Pain that’s felt directly in your neck area
• Discomfort that varies in intensity
• A stiff or tense neck
• Neck spasms
• Discomfort that’s affected by your neck movements
The specific way soft tissue injuries cause neck strain is also determined, in part, by what actually irritated, stretched, or tore the affected muscles or tendons in the first place. Along with whiplash, common causes of neck strain include:
• Poor posture, which might include habitually leaning forward (“tech neck”)
• Strain related to heavy lifting
• Repetitive neck movements
• Trauma related to attempting new activities or movements
Most instances of neck strain can be treated with home remedies. In addition to a brief period of rest or a break from certain strenuous activities involving neck/upper back movements, you may benefit from:
• Over-the-counter pain medication or anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin
• Hot or cold applications
• Muscle-strengthening exercises after your initial pain is gone
Soft tissue injuries affecting the neck aren’t always preventable, but you may be able to reduce your odds of experiencing neck strain by watching your posture, wearing proper protective gear when playing contact sports, and buckling your seat belt whenever you’re in a vehicle.
If the information above leads you to suspect you have a neck strain, 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.