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.
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:
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.
A physical examination will review your posture, ability to move, and the position of your head and chin. The doctor will inspect the blood vessels in your neck and may listen to them with a stethoscope. He or she also may check:
An MRI is a painless, noninvasive test that produces very clear pictures, or images of the human body without the use of X-rays. MRI uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce these images.
A CT scan is an X-ray procedure that combines many X-ray images with the help of a computer to create cross-sectional views of the body.
Pain, inflammation, and tension may be treated by:
Gentle movement of the neck is encouraged. Range of motion exercises may be prescribed by a physical therapist.
You may want to try sleeping with a rolled up towel under your neck for relief.
Your head and neck pain should get better within a couple of weeks. If not, local anesthetic injections may be tried. Full recovery may take as long as 3 months. If you are still having symptoms after this time further evaluation by a spine specialist is appropriate.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 01/22/2014