Is My Neck Broken? No but it May Be Sprained. Learn The Symptoms.

Neck Sprain Symptoms

Neck Sprain Symptons
Klaus Vedfelt Collection/Iconica/Getty Images

It can be difficult for we non-medical people to truly know how serious a neck injury or pain really is. We might blow things out of proportion. For example, upon trauma to the cervical spine, many people immediately react with a frantic cry — "is my neck broken?"

The good news is that trauma to the neck is usually neither life threatening nor serious.

Just the same, an abundance of caution is a good thing immediately after an injury, or when you have symptoms.

This is to avoid making the problem worse — in some cases, much worse — before qualified medical providers can get on the scene (or before you can get to your doctor's office.)

So if your neck injury is not catastrophic, then what is it? Many possibilities come to mind. One of them is a sprain. 

What is a Neck Sprain?

A neck or back sprain occurs as a result of trauma, such as a whiplash incident, a fall, or even a sudden twisting movement of the spine. It differs from a strain in that it affects ligaments, which are bands of tissues that, much like straps, hold the bones together around the joints. (Strains, on the other hand, affect muscles.)

Most likely your neck sprain will be accompanied by pain. But there are a number of other symptoms to be aware of, as well. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the symptoms of neck sprain include:

  • Neck pain that worsens with movement. This type of neck pain will be concentrated mostly in the back of the neck, AAOS says.
  • Delayed onset neck pain. This just means you may not feel neck pain related to your injury the first day or so after the trauma. It may instead appear one or two days later.
  • Muscle spasms (and pain) in the upper shoulder area
  • A headache that is concentrated in the back of the head
  • Numbness, tingling or weakness in your arm or hand
  • A stiff neck
  • Decreased flexibility in your neck when you try to move your head up or down, from side to side and/or when you attempt to roll your neck
  • Sore throat
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping and concentrating

Other symptoms may include swelling, pain when the injured area is stretched (except possibly in cases of more serious sprains, such as a Grade 3 or higher.) excessive movement at the injured joint.

The intensity of a ligament sprain (as well as a muscle strain) is measured in degrees, from mild to severe.

Should you suspect a serious neck sprain, treat the injury as though it were a broken neck by calling 911 and keeping the person immobilized until qualified medical help arrives on the scene. seek medical attention as soon as possible.

If symptoms are obviously mild, apply RICE, which is an acronym for rest, ice, compression and elevation.

Sources:

Magee, D. Orthopedic Physical Assessment. 4th ed. Saunders Elsiver. St. Louis. 2006.

Your Orthopedic Connection. Neck Sprain. AAOS website. August Last Updated 2013.

Moore, K., Dalley, A. Clinically Oriented Anatomy. 5th ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Baltimore. 2006.

Continue Reading