What are the Symptoms of a Neck Sprain?

Neck Sprain Symptons
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Symptoms of a Neck Sprain - and What to Do About Them

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.
  • Delayed onset neck pain. This just means you may not feel neck pain related to your injury the first day 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 if it is a third degree sprain) and extra 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 any neck sprain, seek medical attention as soon as possible. If symptoms are severe, consider the injury to be a medical emergency and seek help immediately. A person who has suffered a serious neck sprain will need immobilization and prompt medical attention

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


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

Your Orthopedic Connection. Neck Sprain. AAOS website. August Last Updated 2013. Accessed 2015.

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

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