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.
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:
Your neck will need time to heal, but strict rest is rarely necessary. For most, you should continue to move your neck as long as it does not increase pain. Go about your normal activities as much as you can tolerate.
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.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
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Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.