A neck sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the neck. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other. They help stabilize joints, including the neck.
Ligaments normally stretch as the joints move. A sprain is caused by a force that makes a ligament stretch farther than it should. The force is usually the result of an accident or trauma. Some forces can cause tears in the ligament tissue.
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Factors that may increase your chance of getting a neck sprain include:
Neck sprain may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and how you injured your neck. A physical exam will be done. The stability of your neck will be checked to look for any nerve damage.
Images may be needed of your neck. This can be done with:
Neck sprains are graded according to the amount of injury:
Strict rest is rarely necessary. The neck can be moved as long as it does not increase pain.
Ice may help decrease swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
After a couple of days, heat may help loosen tight or injured muscles. Wait for swelling to go away before using heat therapy.
Medication can help to relieve discomfort and swelling. Medications may include:
Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Therapy may be needed for severe sprains. Some therapeutic methods include:
Neck sprain is often the cause of an accident. To help reduce your chance of a neck sprain:
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
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Neck sprain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00410. Updated December 2013. Accessed May 11, 2016
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Last reviewed May 2016 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated: 6/22/2015