What is muscle strain in the neck? Why does it happen? Is it a serious situation? When should you see a doctor? How does it go? You can find the answers to all these questions and much more below.
What is muscle strain in the neck?
A muscle strain in the neck is a stretch or tear of a muscle or tendon in your neck. Also known as neck muscle pull , this can cause mild to severe discomfort depending on how the muscles or tendons are affected. Muscle strain in the neck usually tends to heal within a few days or weeks, and you may also experience sharp pain in the process.
Sometimes the terms neck muscle strain and neck sprain are used interchangeably, but they are two different things. A sprain is a ligament injury while a strain is a muscle or tendon injury. However, the symptoms and ailments that occur in both are similar, and both usually clear up on their own after a short time.
Related article: What is muscle tension?
What causes muscle strain in the neck?
4 common causes of muscle strain in the neck include:
- Incorrect head position:
When you hold your head in any position for a long time, the neck muscles, neck tendons or soft tissues in the neck can be stretched more than normal. Sitting slouched in front of the computer for a few hours, holding the phone between the shoulder and ear, or sleeping in the wrong position can strain the neck muscle. An increasingly common problem these days is neck discomfort from staring at features at smartphones for a long time.
- Lifting anything heavy: Lifting anything that
requires too much force that strains the muscles can also cause neck muscle strain. Lifting heavy can cause discomfort in various parts of the body other than the neck, such as the back and arms. Especially when lifting something from the ground, you should bend your knees, it is dangerous to lift something from the ground by bending your waist.
- A new activity:
A muscle strain in the neck or another area may be related to an activity you have just started. Because when your muscles encounter a new activity that they are not accustomed to, they may be forced until they get used to it, and this may result in muscle tension in the neck. For example, when athletes start training for the new season, they often experience muscle tension in various parts of their body.
- Repetitive movements:
Constantly performing repetitive movements can also strain the muscles, causing strain. Even if the repetitive movements you do are not demanding, your muscles can be strained and cause discomfort. If you have a job or task that requires you to do repetitive movements, taking an occasional rest will prevent muscle strain.
What are the symptoms of muscle strain in the neck?
Neck injuries can range from a mildly excruciating pain to severe pain and can limit head movements for basic tasks such as getting dressed or going to work. Knowing the signs of neck muscle strain can help you identify your problem sooner and find treatments that work.
Common symptoms of neck muscle tension include:
- Pain in one area of the neck:
Neck strains are usually felt in the back of the neck or in a nearby area, often partially in the back of the head, upper back, and/or shoulder.
- Dull pain:
A dull, bothersome pain may persist and potentially affect sleep at night and/or concentration during the day. This pain is likely to be felt deep in the muscle.
- Knife-like pain:
A stabbing pain can sometimes be one of the more intense symptoms of neck muscle strain.
- Pain that worsens with movement:
You may feel no pain at rest or have mild pain, but then a sharp pain occurs with certain movements or activities.
- Muscle spasm:
Inflammation from injury can trigger painful spasms in the injured muscle and possibly nearby muscles.
If the neck muscle strain is the result of a sudden or major blow, such as a car accident, your symptoms may be more serious and may require medical attention and medical attention. Therefore, if you have the following symptoms, it is necessary to see your doctor.
Possible serious symptoms of neck muscle tension include:
- Pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness radiating to the shoulder, arm, or hand
- headache or dizziness
- Visual problems or sensitivity to bright lights
- Difficulty or inability to move the neck
- Difficulty using fingers
- gait disturbances, such as a feeling of unsteadiness
- Loss of stool or urine control
Apart from the common and serious symptoms listed above, you are likely to have other symptoms as well.
When to see a doctor for muscle strain in the neck?
Most neck muscle tension is sufficient to manage symptoms until the pain subsides by resting and relieving any additional load on the neck. However, medical attention should be sought if the injury is part of a major trauma (such as being hit by a car or falling from a height), has worsened and does not improve within a few days, or is accompanied by bothersome symptoms such as numbness and tingling.
How is muscle strain in the neck diagnosed?
Most cases of neck muscle strain are never fully diagnosed because the pain typically starts to go away within a few days. However, if neck pain occurs after a major blow, persists or worsens for several days after the injury, it’s important to see a doctor for a diagnosis. When you go to the doctor for a diagnosis, your doctor will ask about your health history and then do a physical exam.
- Medical history:
Your doctor will want to learn about your health history, as well as how and when your current symptoms started. He or she will also want to learn about current lifestyle habits such as your job, hobbies, stress levels, exercise, nutrition and sleep.
- Physical examination: The
physical examination includes observing and palpating (feeling by touch) the neck for any abnormalities such as tenderness or muscle spasms. Range of motion is also tested by moving the head up and down and turning it from side to side.
If any of the symptoms in the medical history and/or physical examination indicate that something more serious than muscle tension is causing neck pain, more advanced diagnostic testing may be needed. More advanced diagnostic tests include:
Also called radiography, X-ray is good at showing bones and possible fractures or spinal degeneration. An X-ray is typically the first imaging study used when neck pain occurs after a major accident, such as a car accident or a fall from a ladder.
This imaging method creates a series of cross-sections of soft tissues and bones using radio waves and a powerful magnet to view variations in different types of tissue. When used to image the cervical spine, MRI is typically the best option to assess potential damage to soft tissues such as muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, spinal cord.
- Computed tomography:
A computed tomography scan that uses X-rays in conjunction with a computer creates a series of slices for better viewing of the bones. Computed tomography may be combined with a myelogram to get a view of the soft tissues in addition to the bones, especially if MRI is not an option.
A few other advanced diagnostic tests, such as electrodiagnostic tests or nerve conduction studies, may also be considered to help diagnose conditions that cause neck pain.
How does neck muscle strain pass?
Most neck muscle strain will heal on its own, but finding the right treatment can help relieve pain as the injury heals. When neck pain from neck muscle strain persists for more than a few days or when initial treatments do not provide adequate relief, trial and error may be required to find the combination of treatments that works best.
Initial treatment of neck muscle strain
When pain from muscle strain first appears, you can try one or more of the following treatments:
- Change in activity :
Resting the neck and/or avoiding strenuous activities for a few days can help the muscle or tendon heal and make you feel better. Attempting to suppress pain without reducing activity levels can worsen the injury and prolong the duration of pain.
- Ice and/or heat therapy :
It is recommended to apply ice within the first 48 hours after injury to help reduce pain and tension. After 48 hours, heat or ice can be applied according to the patient’s preference. Heat can help facilitate blood circulation and deliver healing nutrients to damaged tissues. In order not to damage the skin, a layer should be formed between the skin and the hot/cold source and the applications should be kept for 10 to 20 minutes with breaks.
- Over-the- counter pain relievers: Taking anti-inflammatory drugs, such as those with
active ingredients ibuprofen or naproxen, reduces inflammation, which can reduce pain. Pain relievers, such as those containing acetaminophen, may also be an option.
Although most neck muscle strain is painful with movement, complete bed rest and/or neck support is not generally recommended, as this can result in weakened neck muscles and a longer recovery time.
Treatment of persistent neck muscle strain
If neck muscle strain persists for more than a few days and does not go away or worsens despite the measures you take, you may need further treatment. Treatment of persistent neck muscle strain includes:
- Physical therapy :
A physical therapist can design a physical therapy program that targets muscles in the neck and elsewhere that need to become stronger and more flexible. A physical therapy program begins with instructions on how to do exercises and stretches. Usually, after a week or month of treatment in a physical therapy center, you will be able to apply your treatment at home.
- Manual manipulation:
An orthopedist can make manual adjustments to the cervical spine (such as the lower spine) to realign the joints, improve range of motion of the neck, and reduce pain.
- Massage therapy:
Massage can relax and relax muscles, as well as increase blood flow to damaged tissues, which can make you feel better. Some doctors may also provide massage therapy along with manual manipulation.
This treatment is based on the theory that unbalanced energy flows (or blockages) in the body can contribute to pain and therefore strategically placing fine needles in the body can restore balanced energy flows and reduce pain. While this theory has not been scientifically proven, some people report getting pain relief from acupuncture treatments.
- Prescription medications:
Although rare, sometimes muscle tension in the neck may require a prescription medication to provide relief. For example, a muscle relaxant may be prescribed on a short-term basis to relieve pain from a particularly bad muscle spasm.
This list is not a complete list of neck muscle strain treatments and other treatments may be recommended by a doctor.