Understanding Neck Pain
Your cervical spine, or neck, is made up of seven bones stacked on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is relatively flexible so it relies on muscles and ligaments for support. "Sprains" and "strains" are the result of these tissues being stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its normal capacity.
The term, "sprain" means that the tough, durable ligaments that hold your bones together have been damaged, while "strain" means that your muscles or tendons that move your neck have been partially torn.
Auto accidents and sports injuries are the principal elements of neck sprains and strains. Other less traumatic actions like reaching, pushing, pulling, moving heavy objects and falls can also trigger these difficulties. Most generally, sprains and strains are not the effects of any single event but rather from reoccurred overloading.
Tendons and ligaments ordinarily maintain their shape when dealing with small isolated stressors, but constant challenges and stressors to the muscles lead to injury in much the same way that continually bending a piece of copper wire will lead it to break. Examples of these less acute types of cervical sprain/strain injuries include bad posture, poor workstations, repetitive movements, prolonged overhead activity, sedentary lifestyles, improper sleep positions, poor bra support and obesity.
Symptoms from a sprain/strain may begin abruptly but more commonly develop gradually. Complaints often include dull neck pain that becomes sharper when you move your head. Rest may relieve your symptoms but often leads to stiffness. The pain is generally centered in the back of your neck but can spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades.
Tension headaches commonly accompany neck injuries. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have any signs of a more serious injury, including a severe or "different" headache, loss of consciousness, confusion or "fogginess", difficulty concentrating, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, change in vision, nausea or vomiting, numbness or tingling in your arms or face, weakness or clumsiness in your arms and hands, decreased bowel or bladder control or fever.
Sprain/strain injuries cause your normal healthy elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue". This process can lead to ongoing pain and even arthritis. Seeking early and appropriate treatment, like the type provided in our office, is critical. Depending upon the severity of your injury, you may need to limit your activity for a while- especially movements or activities that cause pain.
Avoid heavy lifting and take frequent breaks from prolonged activity, particularly overhead activity. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour. Heat may be helpful after several days or for more chronic types of pain. Ask your doctor for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports-creams.