Symptoms and Signs of Neck Strain (Sprain)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 7/15/2022

Doctor's Notes on Neck Strain (Sprain)

Neck strain refers to any injury to the muscles or tendons that support the head and neck. These injuries are often caused indirect trauma in which the head is flung backward (hyperextension) or forward (hyperflexion), commonly called whiplash. Most instances of neck strain injury do not involve fractures of bones or damage to the underlying structures of the neck like the trachea, spinal cord, or blood vessels.

Symptoms of neck strain include

  • pain that may be mild to severe and decreased range of motion of the neck.
  • In a classic whiplash injury, the patient usually feels fine on the day of the injury but awakens the next morning with pain and decreased range of motion.

Associated symptoms can include

  • stiffness of the neck,
  • pain that radiates to the low back, and
  • the inability to perform daily work tasks or activities.

What is the treatment for neck strain?

The treatment for a neck strain usually involves modification of activities by refraining from strenuous activity for a few days.

  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are usually given to control pain and inflammation.
  • Both ice and heat therapy may be useful after 48 hours, with ice being recommended for the first 48 hours. The ice pack should be used with a towel or cloth to avoid direct contact, and applications of both ice and heat should be limited to periods of 10-20 minutes.
  • Bed rest and neck braces are usually not recommended, as these may further weaken the muscles.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.