The neck is the most flexible part of the spine which and supports the weight of the head. The unique anatomical structure of the cervical vertebrae allows free movement of the head. The neck is also composed of muscles and ligaments. Any excessive stress on the ligament and muscles may injure or /damage them.
A strain refers to damage to the muscle or its tendon when it is stretched beyond its capacity. In severe cases it may even result in a muscle tear.
Some of the most common activities and movements that may cause a stress on the soft tissues of the neck include lack of adequate warm up exercises prior to the sports, a fall, awkward position of the neck during sleeping, poor posture and spearing in football. Motor vehicle accidents usually result in severe strains called whiplash injuries due to sudden unexpected movement of the neck, these include severe strains.
A strain may result in neck pain, which may develop immediately after the injury or may present after a few hours or even days of after the injury. The pain is usually intense and pounding in nature with a sudden onset. The pain may also radiate to the shoulder, upper back or arms. It may also be associated with muscle spasms. The affected region may be tender to touch with localized swelling and stiffness. Even slight movement of the neck can aggravate the pain. In a few rare cases it may also result in loss of bowel or bladder function, which is a medical emergency.
Whiplash injuries are more severe neck injuries. They usually result in headache, dizziness, jaw pain and a ringing sensation in the ears.
An accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment of this condition. To arrive at an accurate diagnosis, the doctor will inquire about your symptoms, time of their appearance and a history of any treatments employed previously. A medical history, physical and neurological examination are also essential for diagnosis.
Neurological examination is conducted to identify any signs of neurological injury and involves evaluation of reflexes and muscle weakness. To confirm the diagnosis and to rule out other causes with similar symptoms an X-ray or a CT scan may also be performed. Rarely, an electromyography may also be ordered if an underlying muscle abnormality is suspected.
Although the pain is excruciating, neck strains or whiplash injuries are almost always treatable without surgery using conservative modalities. Some of the non-operative therapies include rest, activity modification, medications such as muscle relaxant and intermittent application of ice pack followed by moist heat application. A neck collar may also be recommended for a few weeks in certain situations. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS’s may also be prescribed to reduce the pain and swelling. Physical therapy or acupuncture may also be effective in some cases.