by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
A neck sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the neck. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and link bones to each other. They help make joints like the neck stable.
Ligaments stretch as joints move. A sprain happens when a force makes them stretch more than they should. This can be from an accident or trauma. Some forces can cause tears.
Factors that may raise your chance of getting a neck sprain are:
Neck sprains may cause:
You will be asked about your symptoms, health history, and how you hurt your neck. A physical exam will be done. Your neck will be checked to look for any nerve damage.
Pictures may be needed of your neck. This can be done with:
Neck sprains are graded based on the amount of injury:
Strict rest is rarely needed. The neck can be moved as long as it does not make pain worse.
Ice and Heat
Ice may help reduce swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
After a couple of days, heat may help loosen tight or injured muscles. Wait for swelling to go away before you use heat.
Medicine can help to reduce pain and swelling. Here are some options:
Note: Aspirin is not advised for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving it to your child.
Therapy may be needed for severe sprains. Here are some methods:
Neck sprain is often the cause of a car crash. To help reduce your chance of a neck sprain:
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Physiotherapy Association
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Neck sprain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
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Updated December 2013. Accessed June 4, 2018.
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Last reviewed May 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Last Updated: 6/22/2015
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