Anatomy & Background
A complicated system of ligaments and muscles serves to control movement, maintain posture, and support the head and neck. Ligaments are fibrous bands of soft tissue that attach bone to bone. The ligamentous system of the spine protects the intervertebral discs and spine from injury, and prevents excessive movement of the head and neck.
The muscular system of the cervical spine is complex, and includes the deep erector spinae or paraspinal muscle groups that run parallel to the spine. In addition there are larger and more superficial muscles that help to move and protect the neck and head.
When neck or spinal motion is pushed to the extreme, such as in a car accident or whiplash injury, these ligaments and muscles can be damaged. Ligament damage sprain and muscle damage strain can produce pain, soreness, loss of motion, and, if severe enough, joint instability.
The term Cervical Sprain is used to describe the pain that sometimes occurs, following an acute injury to the soft tissue of the neck, including the ligaments, tendons and muscles.
Irritation or injury of the structures of the spine may produce spasm and pain of the muscles of the head neck and shoulder area. Common muscles involved include the suboccipital muscles, trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid. Injury to the head and neck causing weakness or tightness of the muscles or laxity of the ligaments can result in pain, decreased ability to maintain good posture, limitation in movement and headaches.
Cause of injury
Cervical sprains and strains are a common injury. They are most often caused by excessive over-the-head activities or lifting, or trauma like a motor vehicle accident or a fall. Sharp, sudden increases in physical activity or added stress on the ligaments in the head and neck are also a common cause of lumbar sprains.
- Pain in the neck
- Swelling or redness at the neck
- Tenderness along the back of the neck
- Muscle spasms
- Stiffness or difficulty moving the neck
- Pain that radiates from the neck to the shoulder and arm
If you suspect that you have suffered a cervical sprain, first try avoiding the positions and activities that produce any pain. A course of conservative treatment is usually recommended that includes rest and immobilization, ice, physical therapy and non-steroidal medications to reduce inflammation. If symptoms persist, consult your physician. S/he may recommend steroidal medication or injections, in conjunction with therapy.
In mild cases many patients found that rest, ice and medication were enough to reduce the pain. Physical therapy is recommended to develop a series of postural, stretching and strengthening exercises to prevent re-occurrence of the injury. Return to activity should be gradual to prevent a return of symptoms.
Moderate to Severe Cases
If the problem persists, consult with your health care provider. Your physician will perform a thorough evaluation to determine the possible cause of your symptoms, the structures involved, the severity of the condition, and the best course of treatment.
Procedures that your physician may recommend and perform in addition to physical therapy may include:
- REST and ICE
- Splinting or bracing such as a cervical collar on the affected area
- The use of NSAIDS (Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs)
- Steroidal injections to reduce inflammation
- Pain medication to reduce the discomfort and allow the patient to perform the recommended exercises
- Trigger Point Injections
- Plasma Rich Platelet Therapy
- Botox Injections