Symptoms of Neck Strain and When to Worry

A tear in the muscle fibers can result in muscle strain. This can also occur on the neck, resulting in a neck strain. The injury is usually mild to moderate and generally heals by itself in less than a week. Most cases of neck strain result from sudden movement or force exerted on the head or neck, such as during a car accident or from falling. In such a case it’s called a whiplash. It can also be a result of staying in an awkward posture for long such as during sleep.

Neck Strain Symptoms

The main symptom of neck strain is pain coupled with a reduction in range of neck movement. Pain is usually felt at injury time, but neck strain pain may be different since inflammatory changes can occur slowly; hence most people may fail to notice any pain at the initial stages. If pain is felt immediately at point of injury, it indicates the injuries could be more serious. It’s usually common for you to feel fine after a whiplash occurrence only to wake up the next day with pain and a lesser range of motion.

Other strain symptoms include inability to continue with your daily activities and work as before. You should be wary of symptoms that indicate the nerves are irritated such as dizziness, numbness, incoordination, tingling and weakness. Note that swollen lymph nodes are not necessarily caused by neck strain.Additionally, neck stiffness may occur and may include the back in more severe cases.

When to See a Doctor

Should symptoms persist or they don’t clear as expected; or new ones appear, you should seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

Contact a doctor if you experience the following:

  • Severe neck pain
  • The pain does not go away even with changes in position and medication.
  • Intense neck pain at night
  • Persistent and intense spasms of neck muscles
  • Inability to continue with activities and work that you could do before

Additionally, some symptoms indicate injury to vital parts in the neck and should therefore be quickly attended medically. These are such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty or pain with swallowing
  • Dizziness, headache, nausea, or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Tingling or loss of function particularly in the upper extremities
  • Numbness
  • Ringing in the ears or decreased hearing

In case your doctor is unreachable, you should quickly go to the emergency department of a hospital and get an evaluation for these neck strain symptoms.You should also contact a doctor in case additional injury occurs while the neck pain is still present.

If you see any symptom that suggests the nervous system, airway or the spinal cord is affected, seek medical attention immediately.

Symptoms for injury of the spinal cord include:

  • Inability to control the bladder or bowels (incontinence)
  • Difficulty in urinating
  • Weakness of legs or being unable to walk
  • Imbalance
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Any other acute neck strain symptoms suggestive of nerve problems

How Is Neck Strain Treated?

Since most strains on the neck muscles, tendons and ligaments heal in a short time (in most cases, with 24 – 48 hours), there are several remedies that you can use to relieve the pain. These include:

  • Applying cold packs or ice. This should be done in twenty-minute intervals and within the initial twenty four hours. The cold helps in reducing inflammation, allowing healing to take place.
  • Applying heat. Heat helps in improving flow of nutrient-rich blood to the strained area and thus stimulating the healing process. Moist heat from a hot shower or a hot bath or low level heat from a heat wrap will work perfectly.
  • Over-the-counter medications. Medicines, such as ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) or naproxen (e.g. Aleve), are anti-inflammatory and will suppress the inflammation and in the process reduce the pain. You can also opt for pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol), which reduce the pain.
  • Massage. This helps improve blood flow to the strained area which in turn stimulates healing.
  • Neck brace. While lying down, place a small pillow under the neck to provide a neutral and proper positioning.If your doctor recommends it, you may use a neck brace or collar which increases support. You should, however, not use it for long as it is harmful to the neck ligaments and weakens them.

You may as well consider osteopathic manipulative therapy (which is administered by a trained physician of manipulative medicine), chiropractic care, acupuncture, or physical therapy.

Stretches for Neck Strain Symptoms

Neck Rolls

  • Bring your chin down to your chest.
  • Roll the neck slowly so your ear is moving closer to your shoulder.
  • Continue rolling, until you can see the ceiling.
  • Bring the chin back to the starting position and roll to the other side.
  • Perform at least 10 rolls in both directions.

Shoulder Rolls

  • Start with your arms on your sides, relaxed.
  • Roll your shoulders forward bringing them up towards your ears.
  • Continue by rolling them towards the back.
  • Get them back to the starting position.
  • Perform at least 10 rolls in both directions.

Forward Flex

  • Interlace your fingers behind your head.
  • Bring your chin down towards the chest.
  • Pull forward with your hands till you perceive some mild tension.
  • Hold the stretch for twenty seconds.
  • Repeat three times.

Side Flex

  • Place your right arm over the top of your head so that your right hand rests on your left ear.
  • Pull your right ear towards your right shoulder until you perceive some mild tension
  • Hold the stretch for twenty seconds.
  • Repeat three times on both sides.