An introduction to neck strain
The neck contains many muscles and tendons which work together to allow full movement, flexibility and support to the head and shoulders. However, because of the wide range of movements that the neck can perform, it is susceptible to injury. A neck strain occurs when one or more of these muscles have been damaged or the muscle fibres have been torn.
It is important to remember that some neck strains may be serious injuries and need medical attention.
Neck strain is only one of many causes of neck pain. There is a wide range of injuries which can happen to the neck, and so it is important to understand what type of neck injury you have in order to find the most effective treatment.
Neck pain, stiff neck, shoulder pain or headaches?
The flexibility your neck offers means that it is susceptible to injury. Most people will immediately notice any pain in their neck, and assume that it a neck strain. However, there are other injuries you may incur, including:
- Neck pain – while many people complain of neck pain, often the cause can be difficult to determine. It tends to be the result of injury to the soft tissue in your neck, such as the ligaments. However, there is a range of other causes for neck pain, ranging from arthritis to a slipped disc
- Stiff neck – this is when you experience pain or discomfort when trying to move the neck, particularly from side to side. Most stiff necks get better within a week.
- Shoulder pain – sometimes neck pain can affect your shoulder too. It is sometimes difficult to tell exactly which area of your neck or shoulder is affected. This tends to happen when the soft tissue linking the two is damaged.
- Headaches – neck pain and headaches can be closely linked. Again, the causes are wide and varied, and if the symptom persists for longer than a week, the cause should be investigated
What are the causes of neck strain?
There are so many ways of straining your neck, that often the exact cause is difficult to determine. However, there are some common causes, including:
- Repeatedly maintaining a bad posture – this is likely if you spend much of your day cradling a phone in the crook of your neck, or are hunched over a computer or book. Sleeping in an awkward position or with pillows which or too high or low can also lead to neck strain
- Lifting and carrying – it is easy to injury your back and neck if you twist while carrying. If you are carrying a heavy object on one side of your body, this can also strain your neck
- Whiplash – this occurs when the neck is suddenly thrown forward then back, often when hit from behind in a car accident. The quick and uncontrollable movements often strain the muscles in the neck beyond what they are used to coping with, leading to tearing of the muscle fibres.
Follow the link for more information in causes of neck pain.
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What are the symptoms of neck strain?
The symptoms of neck strain vary. For some people the pain experienced is a mild ache, for others it can be quite debilitating. Often neck strain occurs over time, from repeatedly adopting bad posture, and so the pain may increase. Depending on which muscles you have damaged, you may have difficulty looking from side to side or up and down. You may also be able to identify an area of the neck which is swollen or tender to touch.
There are certain cases in which you may have sustained a more serious injury than you perhaps originally realised. It is important to seek medical advice if you experience:
- Immediate pain after an accident
- Lack of co-ordination or mobility
Are there treatments for neck strain?
The type of treatment you will need depends entirely on the type and severity of your injury. For a minor neck strain it is often good to keep the neck gently moving so that it doesn’t become stiff. Ice, while often good for injuries, is not good for neck pain as it may cause further stiffness. Instead, pain killers and anti-inflammatories, including the flower arnica, found in licensed herbal products such as Atrogel Arnica Gel are often effective in these types of injuries.
If you are concerned about your condition, believe that it may affect your mobility or have been experiencing pain for several months then it is important to seek medical attention.