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Neck Strain (cont.)

What Are Causes and Risk Factors of Neck Strain?

Neck strains result from injury to the neck. Such injuries are caused most often by indirect trauma when the head is flung backward (hyperextension) or forward (hyperflexion), commonly known as whiplash. Injuries caused by rotation and compression (when the force of impact lands on the top of the head) can also result in neck strains and soft-tissue injury.

  • Automobile accidents are responsible for many whiplash injuries because of hyperextension or hyperflexion. A common scenario is when a seat-belted person's head continues to move forward during a frontal impact and is then often thrown backward (the converse is also true). Side impacts typically result in bending of the head to that side, and rear impact tends to throw the head backward. Any or all of these movements usually result in whiplash.
  • People with occupations requiring repetitive or prolonged neck extension (microtrauma) may develop neck strain injury. Picture someone sitting at a computer keyboard, for example, straining to see a monitor that is not adjusted properly for the person's posture. Also, the person may be trying to see the monitor through poorly adjusted bifocal lenses and must tip the chin upward to view the screen. Now tuck a telephone into the person's shoulder for much of the day and that's the formula for neck strain. With the increase use of computers at home, even the time away from one's work can add to this injury.
  • Some people appear prone to neck strain injuries merely as the result of an abnormal posture while awake or from sleeping in an awkward position.

What Are Neck Strain Symptoms and Signs?

The cardinal symptom of neck strain is pain and often combined with decreased range of motion. Although one typically has pain after an injury, it is not uncommon for someone to be free of discomfort initially, because inflammatory changes may happen slowly. The presence of immediate pain at the time of injury should serve as a red flag that the injuries may be more severe than first thought. The classic events after a whiplash injury are that the patient feels fine the day of the injury but wakes up the next morning with pain and decreased range of motion.

Other symptoms include the inability to perform daily work or activities that one could do before. Be wary of symptoms suggesting nerve irritation or a pinched nerve, such as weakness, numbness, tingling, incoordination, and dizziness. Neck strain does not typically cause lymph node swelling.

Neck stiffness usually occurs and may radiate into the lower back when severe. Difficulty chewing, swallowing, and breathing occur rarely. Anyone with these symptoms should contact a doctor.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/3/2016

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