Understanding Neck Pain
Your cervical spine, or neck, is constructed from seven bones that are stacked on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is a relatively flexible part of your body and it relies on muscles and ligaments for support.
"Sprains" and "strains" are the result of the tissues that are found in your neck being stretched too hard or too far. This injury is very similar to a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its normal capacity. The medical term, "sprain" means that the tough, durable ligaments that keep your bones held 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 prominent ways in which your neck sprains and strains are developed. Other less traumatic activities such as reaching, pushing, pulling, moving heavy objects and falls can also trigger these problems.
Most commonly, sprains and strains are not caused by one single event but instead they are formed by repeated overloading. Tendons and ligaments are good at managing small isolated stressors, but repetitive challenges lead to injury in a similar way that bending a piece of copper wire will cause 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 slowly over time. Complaints about this condition in many cases include a dull neck pain that becomes progressively more sharp when you move your head. Rest may relieve your symptoms but often also often lead to stiffness. The pain is generally found in the back of your neck but the pain is also known to spread to other areas of your body such as your shoulders or between your shoulder blades. Tension headaches commonly accompany neck injuries.
Always 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 the elastic tissue in that area of your body to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue". This process can create to ongoing problems for you and in some rare cases it can even create arthritis. Seeking treatment as early as possible, like the type provided in our office, is critical. Depending upon how serious your injury is, you may need to limit your activity for awhile- especially movements or activities that cause pain.
It is best to stay away from lifting heavy objects and take breaks as often as possible from prolonged activity, particularly overhead activity. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour. Heat may in some cases may helpful after several days or for more chronic types of pain. Ask your physician for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from using different types of sports-creams.