NECK SPRAIN OR STRAINS
A neck sprain is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to damage to structures in the neck being; ligament, muscle, joints. Neck ligament damage is often referred to as a sprain, muscles a strain and joint dysfunction. These injuries can be caused by sudden impacts such as whiplash, or by repetitive micro traumas such as poor posture and excessive lifting.
Minor neck sprains can heal on their own within a few days, while more mild to severe sprains can take up to a few weeks to heal and commonly need physiotherapy intervention.
WHAT CAUSES NECK SPRAINS
Neck muscle strain
This injury is one of the most common sources of neck pain. When the muscle is damaged it can directly lead to neck pain, and/or compromise the overall stability of the neck. It can also place other structures such as joints and ligaments at a greater risk for injury and dysfunction. Neck strains are often caused by muscle fatigue, repetitive and excessive loading, poor movement patterning and exercise technique, and poor posture.
Neck ligament sprains
Ligaments are strong fibrous structures that support our joints and limit movement. Over-stretching these ligaments either suddenly or gradually over time can lead to poor stabilisation and dysfunction of the neck, which can cause lots of discomfort and pain. Sporting injuries and whiplash can be common sudden injuries to the neck, while poor posture can gradually over-load the neck and be a cause in the ligaments stretching over time.
Neck joint sprain
Commonly when there is an injury to muscles and/or ligaments in the neck, the joints can be affected. This can occur during and/or even after the healing of the original injury. Acutely when there is an injury to neck muscles and ligaments, there is a restricted amount of movement usually due to pain and over time this can cause the joints to become stiff. After the healing process of an injury to the muscles and ligaments, there can be forms of compensated movements and the joints may begin to work in a dysfunctional manner.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF NECK SPRAINS
- Mild neck ache
- General stiffness with movement
- Localised tenderness and tightness of muscles
- Neck muscle spasms
- Decreased neck range of motion limited by stiffness and/or pain
- Pain in the shoulders and upper back
- Ringing in the ears
- Patches of numbness in hands/arms
DIAGNOSING A NECK SPRAIN
Identifying and differentiating the specifics of your neck sprain can be difficult. However an experienced physiotherapist can do so. By assessing subjective and objective findings they will be able to ensure an accurate diagnosis and establish an effective treatment plan.
X-rays will not be able to detect changes to muscle and ligamentous structures, rather bony changes. While an MRI can specifically identify changes to muscles, ligaments, disc and bone. MRI’s however are not routinely used in diagnosing these conditions as a physiotherapist is well accredited to do so.
Nevertheless in severe and atypical cases your treating physiotherapist may choose to use this imaging to gain further information and/or clarification of the injury.
PHYSIOTHERAPY TREATMENT FOR NECK SPRAINS
Neck sprains can be very effectively managed by your physiotherapist. They will assess your lifestyle, posture, neck structures and identify the main causes of condition. They will then implement the most effective treatment methods for you.
The main aims of treating neck sprains should be to:
- Reduce aggravating factors such as improving posture, adjusting activities and sleeping patterns.
- Decrease pain, and improve range of motion of the neck.
- Promote healing of damage structures.
- Improve muscular strength, control and postural awareness.
- Prevent the injury recurring.
TYPES OF PHYSIO TREATMENT
- Soft tissue massage
- Posture control and correction exercises
- Neck stabilisation exercises
- Taping techniques for support and control
- Ergonomic education
- Acupuncture and dry needling
- Hot and cold therapies
- Neck strengthening and support exercises
- Neck stretches
- Neurodynamic tension imbalance correctional exercises
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
HOW YOU CAN HELP YOUR NECK SPRAIN?
Neck sprains can be treated through rehabilitation exercises, which promote the healing and recovery of the damaged structures. A physiotherapist will assess the cause and extent of your injury and effectively plan your treatment to assist you on your road to recovery.
A physiotherapist will establish a specific day-day plan involving mobilisation exercises, postural control and correction based exercises, strength and stabilisation exercises, which are best designed to resolve your neck sprain and get YOU back to YOUR life.
If you are looking to alleviate your pain and treat your neck sprain, then please enquire into visiting one of our clinics or sign up for one of our online services for expert help and treatment.