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.
Cervical Spine (Neck)
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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.
Therapy may be needed for severe sprains. Some therapeutic methods include:
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
Cervical sprain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 25, 2013. Accessed September 20, 2013
Conlin A, Bhogal S, et al. Treatment of whiplash-associated disorders—part II: Medical and surgical interventions. Pain Research & Management. 2005;10:33-40.
Duane TM, Wilson SP, et al. Canadian cervical spine rule compared with computed tomography: a prospective analysis. J Trauma. 2011;71(2):352-357.
Langevin P, Peloso PM, et al. Botulinum toxin for subacute/chronic neck pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011;(7):CD008626.
Neck sprain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons Ortho Info website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00410. Updated August 2007. Accessed September 20, 2013
Teasell RW, McClure JA, et al. A research synthesis of therapeutic interventions for whiplash-associated disorder (WAD): part 2 - interventions for acute WAD. Pain Res Manag. 2010;15(5):295-304.
1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.
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.
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