What is a neck sprain?

A neck sprain is a stretched ligament or muscle in the neck. A neck sprain may occur without any obvious injury but sometimes it may be caused by a sudden impact with an object. An impact may force the neck to quickly extend beyond its normal range, and then snap back forcefully. This is commonly called a whiplash injury. Rear-end car accidents, head jerking during amusement park rides, or being kicked are the most common forms of impact that may cause a neck sprain.

What symptoms will I have with a neck sprain?

You will have neck pain that worsens with movement. Sometimes this pain will not appear until a full day or two after the event that caused it. You will most likely have neck stiffness that hinders your ability to move your neck. The back of your head might hurt. You may also have pain in the shoulders or upper back. Other symptoms that may happen with a neck sprain include:

  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Fatigue
  • Patchy numbness in the hands or arms

If you notice these symptoms after a whiplash-type incident, see a doctor for an evaluation to rule out a more serious problem, such as damage to the spinal cord. Arm or leg weakness, difficulty walking, and an inability to control the bladder or bowels are signs of spinal cord injury. If you have immediate neck pain after the incident, go to an emergency room.

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