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What You Need to Know About Neck Sprains and Strains

Jan 4, 2016

If you’ve ever been in a fender bender automotive accident, you have probably experienced some degree of whiplash. The pain of your neck being jolted can be incredibly painful, and when you consider that the average weight of a human head is around 10 lbs., you can imagine why.

Aside from your esophagus, lymphatic system, and other important organs, your neck is also home to a whole host of spinal nerves that link your brain with the rest of your body along your spinal column. When damaged in any way, these nerves can send what is often called referred pain throughout the body.

The Dangers of Neck Injury

While many of us only think of a neck injury as occurring out of some traumatic incident such as an automotive accident or a fall, neck injury can also be caused by several more slowly injurious activities. Sleeping position, carrying a heavy weight on one side of the body, or having bad posture can all contribute to neck injury.

There are two types of neck injury: neck sprain and neck strain. These are both incredibly painful and can definitely affect your daily life. But they are actually quite different to your body and thus require different treatment.

Neck Sprain vs. Neck Strain

Understanding the difference between a sprain and a strain can be a bit complicated. And since both are usually treated in the same manor it likely won’t even matter to you. But let’s take a moment to understand each anyway.

Neck Strain is usually called “whiplash” and much like the automotive accident example above, occurs from some type of heavy impact that causes your neck to be jerked around. The pain associated with neck strain is caused by tears and stretches in the tendons and muscles in the neck. This is often caused by an acute injury, such as a sudden trauma.

Neck Sprain is caused when there is damage to the muscle or tendons that connect the muscle to the bone. Ligaments that attach bones to other bones are torn in a sprain and can cause severe pain as they try to mend themselves naturally. This is often caused by overuse, such as sleeping in a bad position or repeating a painful activity for a stretch of time.

Treatment of Sprains & Strains

Because both types of injury deal with tears in muscle and ligaments, the best way for you to take care of your injury is to rest it. If a particular activity caused the injury, you’ll want to take a break from that activity until your injury is healed. You can also use a cold therapy to lessen the inflammation and help with the pain. Most physicians recommend using a cold pack for 20 minutes on, and allowing the skin to return to normal temperature before applying again. You’ll want to wrap the ice pack in something to avoid damaging your skin.

Other treatment options include using compression to reduce swelling and blood loss, as well as elevation to reduce swelling. In elevation, you’ll want to elevate your injury higher than where your heart is resting, which is quite easy with your neck since it’s naturally there anyway.

If you’re experiencing neck pain, make an appointment with your orthopaedic specialist to discuss what treatment option is best for you.