A neck sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the neck. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that cross joints and connect bones to each other. They help stabilize joints, including the neck.
Ligaments normally stretch as the joints move. A sprain is caused by a force that makes a ligament stretch farther than it should. The force is usually the result of an accident or trauma. Some forces can cause tears in the ligament tissue.
Cervical Spine (Neck)
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Factors that may increase your chance of getting a neck sprain include: Being in a car accidentAssaults with a blow to the headSporting events that include full contact at high velocityHard fallOccupations that put you at risk for severe falls or car accidents
Neck sprain may cause: Neck pain that gets worse with movement, especially in the back of the neckShoulder pain and muscle spasmsTingling sensations or weakness in the armsHeadache, especially in the back of the headDifficulty sleepingFatigueTrouble concentratingIrritabilityStiffness and difficulty moving the head in 1 or more direction
You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and how you injured your neck. A physical exam will be done. The stability of your neck will be checked to look for any nerve damage.
Images may be needed of your neck. This can be done with: X-raysMRI scanCT scan
Neck sprains are graded according to the amount of injury: Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligamentsGrade 2—Partial tearing of ligamentsGrade 3—Complete tearing of ligaments
Strict rest is rarely necessary. The neck can be moved as long as it does not increase pain.
Ice may help decrease 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 using heat therapy.
Medication can help to relieve discomfort and swelling. Medications may include: Over-the-counter pain medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophenTopical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skinPrescription pain relieversMuscle relaxants
Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Therapy may be needed for severe sprains. Some therapeutic methods include: Cervical traction—a special technique to stretch the neck and reduce muscle spasm
Physical therapy—restores flexibility,
range of motion
, and strength in your neck
Neck sprain is often the cause of an accident. To help reduce your chance of a neck sprain: Drive carefully to avoid car accidents.Wear your seat/shoulder belt.Wear proper equipment and use proper technique when playing sports.
Conlin A, Bhogal S, et al. Treatment of whiplash-associated disorders—part II: Medical and surgical interventions.
Pain Research & Management. 2005;10:33-40.
Duane TM, Wilson SP, et al. Canadian cervical spine rule compared with computed tomography: a prospective analysis.
Langevin P, Peloso PM, et al. Botulinum toxin for subacute/chronic neck pain.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Neck sprain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00410. Updated December 2013. Accessed May 11, 2016
Teasell RW, McClure JA, et al. A research synthesis of therapeutic interventions for
whiplash-associated disorder (WAD): part 2 - interventions for acute WAD.
Pain Res Manag.
1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Copyright © EBSCO Publishing. All rights reserved.