Your neck, or cervical spine, is made up of seven bones stacked on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level (same as in your low back as discussed in last month’s blog). 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 beyond their normal capacity, 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 partially damaged, while "strain" means that your muscles or tendons that move your neck have been partially damaged.
Auto accidents and sports injuries are the leading causes of neck sprains and strains (think “whiplash”-type injuries). Other less traumatic activities can also trigger these problems, like reaching, pushing, pulling, moving heavy objects and falls. Most commonly, sprains and strains are not the results of any single event but rather from repeated loading that goes beyond normal tissue capacity. Tendons and ligaments generally manage stressors quite well, but repetitive challenges without time to recover and adapt lead to injury in much the same way that constantly bending a piece of copper wire will cause it to break. Examples of these less acute types of cervical sprain/strain injuries include repetitive neck movements and prolonged overhead activity.
Symptoms from a sprain/strain most commonly develop gradually, but may begin abruptly. Complaints often include dull neck pain that becomes sharper when moving your head, with the pain generally centered in the back of your neck. Pain can sometimes spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades, with tension headaches commonly accompanying neck injuries. Rest may relieve your symptoms but often leads to stiffness. Be sure to contact our office if you have any unusual symptoms, 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. These are signs that you may have a more serious injury and need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Sprain/strain injuries cause your normal healthy elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue", which can lead to ongoing pain and in some cases 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 movements or activities that cause pain. Avoid heavy lifting and take frequent breaks from prolonged activity, particularly overhead activity. Neck pain tends to respond better when you keep some aerobic activity in your daily routine, like walking, so it is important to maintain some activity. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour, and heat may be helpful in specific scenarios.
Treatments we perform in our office for this condition include joint manipulation, specifically a chiropractic adjustment, myofascial release, therapy modalities, and therapeutic exercises. Our providers prescribe specific therapeutic stretching and strengthening to help increase tissue flexibility, build strength, and ease the pain while patients are at home. Patients are also given guidance on activities of daily living, such as how to set up their work station or selecting a pillow.
If you or anyone you know are currently experiencing any of these symptoms, call our office (913-888-4845) and set up an appointment so we can help you get to feeling better! Special thanks to our partners at ChiroUp for providing the framework to today’s blog and assisting us in delivering our patient care.