(Sometimes known as Whiplash)

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 Definition An injury to the ligaments (sprain) or muscles (strain) of the neck
Details Sprains or strains of the neck are unfortunately common. The symptoms of pain, spasm and stiffness are related to stretching or tearing of the soft tissue of the neck--muscles, ligaments, joints.
Causes Neck sprains or strains can be caused by car accidents when the head is whipped back and forward in a sudden fashion (whiplash) or may be due to lifting improperly. Excess computer use with poor positioning of the arms and neck may also lead to a neck sprain or strain.
Diagnosis Typically, the neck pain and spasm begin either immediately after an injury or may develop within the 24 hours. The pain is made worse by activity and usually improves with rest. The pain is also isolated to the neck and does not radiate to the shoulder, arm or hand.

X-rays may be taken to rule out injuries to the spine, especially if the neck sprain is associated with a car accident. Occasionally, an MRI or CT Scan is needed to further evaluate the bones and ligaments around the neck.
Treatment Nonoperative: Initially, icing and rest coupled with anti-inflammatory medication are important to relieve pain and spasm. A heating pad after the first 48 to 72 hours may be helpful if the neck is stiff.

Stretching and strengthening of the muscles around the neck and upper back are key components to full recovery. These prevention techniques and exercises may be part of a comprehensive rehabilitation program.

Operative: Very rarely, surgery is indicated for chronic neck pain. Surgery should be reserved for patients with severe, unrelenting neck pain that has failed to respond to nonoperative measures.

Some neck sprains or strains can be avoided by maintaining excellent strength and flexilibility of the neck and upper back muscles. Staying in good aerobic shape by walking, riding a bike, jogging or swimming also helps keep the neck and back fit. Finally, learning proper lifting and computer positioning techniques may prevent some neck sprains or strains.