Neck Strain Overview
Neck strain is an injury to the muscles and tendons that support and move the head and neck. The neck is susceptible to injury because it is capable of extensive range of motion. It is, as a result, less stable that many other body areas. In addition, the neck muscles are affected by the motion of nearly all other areas of the body.
The neck contains many vital anatomic structures, the most critical being the airway (trachea, breathing tube), the spinal cord, and the blood vessels that supply the brain. Neck strain injuries do not typically involve serious injury to any of these vital structures. Neck strain is also not usually associated with fractures or dislocations of any of the bones of the cervical spine, but injury to all of these tissues can occur with the most severe trauma.
Injuries of tissues that contract and move, such as muscles and tendons, are termed strains. Similar injuries to nonmoving structures, such as ligaments, joint capsules, nerves, bursae, blood vessels, and cartilage, are termed sprains. Both strains and sprains of the neck may involve tears to ligaments covering the cervical vertebrae of the spine, the many muscles of the neck (which move the head), and many other associated structures. They may also result in injury to cervical nerves caused by stretching or compression.
The neck is an area where stability has been sacrificed for mobility, making it particularly vulnerable to injury. Because one can be injured in a number of different ways, a detailed medical and work history (including an analysis of work activity) is often needed to fully evaluate a neck injury. It also helps to predict how long one's recovery will take and what the prognosis will be following an injury.
A thorough physical examination is necessary, particularly in instances where symptoms of nerve injury occur. Other studies using the latest imaging methods and other techniques may also be helpful.
Seeing a doctor is essential for all neck strains with serious injury or for severe, persistent, or unexplained symptoms or problems. Supportive self-care is often enough with the more common minor injuries for someone to have a complete recovery.