Neck injury

Dr. Nadheer K M (AIIMS)MBBS

November 05, 2020

March 15, 2022

Neck injury
Neck injury

Our neck connects the head to the rest of the body. Even though it makes up a really small portion of the body, the neck performs the crucial role of providing support to the head.

There are seven vertebrae (spinal bones) which provide the neck structural stability. There are discs in-between the vertebra absorb the shock in case of any sudden jerks or injuries. The muscles and connective tissues of the neck provide strength as well as flexibility, allowing us to turn our heads from side to side, right to left and back and up-down.

There can be various ways in which one can injure their neck. The neck is impacted every time we fall. Engaging in physical activities such as gymming or playing sports can cause a lot of wear and tear in the neck. Further, a head injury or shoulder injury may result in disc or nerve damage in the neck. Repetitive stress injuries caused by bad posture and spending many hours looking at devices like the phone (text neck) can also cause damage to the neck.

Continue reading to find out about the symptoms, causes, types and treatments for neck injuries.

Symptoms of neck injury

Sometimes people dismiss the symptoms of a neck injury, thinking that it is minor pain that will pass on its own (read more: Neck pain: symptoms, causes, treatment). But neck injuries can be more than just a pain in the neck and should be taken seriously. Signs you have a severe neck injury are:

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Types of neck injuries

Not all neck injuries are the same. They are of different types, depending on the cause and severity. Some of the common neck injuries are:

  • Neck sprain: When the ligaments and muscles present in-between the vertebrae stretch or tear due to sudden movements, it results in a neck sprain. It heals gradually when given appropriate care and time.
  • Whiplash: This is a common injury that takes place when there is a sudden and extreme back and forth movement, especially in the case of a car accident. This may cause tightness in the muscles, making them feel hard and knotted. 
  • Pinched nerve: A pinched nerve is also called cervical radiculopathy. In this condition a nerve in the neck gets compressed or irritated. This may trigger a tingling, pins-and-needles sensation. It is also possible to develop numbness in the area supplied by the nerves. 
  • Cervical fracture: A fracture could occur in any one of the seven vertebrae when the body sustains trauma. This is called a cervical fracture. It can be dangerous, which is why the head should be immobilized after a neck injury—at least until an X-ray is done to make sure that nothing's broken.
  • Herniated cervical disc: When there’s a tear or rupture in the disc wall and the gel-like centre of the disc spills out, the condition is called herniated cervical disk. Age is a risk factor for a herniated disc, although the most common reason behind this is improper lifting of heavy objects.

Neck injury causes

Knowing the cause behind your neck pain is the first step towards figuring out a treatment plan for the same. Here are the most common causes behind a neck injury:

  • Sports injury: People who play sports may injure their neck if they face a mishap on the field/court that damages the tendons, muscles or ligaments of the neck. 
  • Car accidents: The chances of a neck injury are extremely high in the case of a car accident, especially if the car is hit from behind. This is because a sudden jerk causes swift back and forth movements that are likely to result in a whiplash. 
  • Chronic illnesses such as meningitis could cause persistent neck pain and discomfort.
  • Overuse of the neck by repeatedly doing tasks that involve the arms and upper body may cause overuse injuries.

Diagnosis of neck injuries

In case you have the symptoms of a neck injury, seeking immediate medical care is very important.

To diagnose the problem, the doctor is likely to conduct several tests. These include X-Ray, CT scan and MRI which will all present detailed visuals of the neck and facilitate a proper treatment plan.

Getting the tests done will also reveal whether it is the nerves, bones or muscles that have been compromised in your injury.

Blood tests could also be done to rule out all possibilities.

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Treatment of neck injuries

The course of treatment varies, depending on the type of neck injury and based on the symptoms that the patient is exhibiting. The doctor is likely to prescribe a pain reliever or muscle relaxant to help ease any pain that the person might be in. Most common medications include ibuprofen and aspirin. (Read more: Painkiller side effects, symptoms)

Corticosteroid injections to the neck may also be given.

Another technique used for treatment is called spinal cord stimulation. It involves the implantation of a device in the spine to deliver mild electrical impulses that help to block the pain signals.

Physical therapy such as exercise and stretching could be recommended as it builds up the muscles that support the neck. (Read more: 10 Easy and Effective Stretches for the entire body)

Most often, resting and applying cold or heat patches could relieve the pain. Using a neck brace for a few days may also be recommended in order to provide support to the neck.

One can also opt for alternative treatments such as massage therapy and acupuncture. Surgery is rarely recommended and only when all other treatment options have been explored.

Medicines for Neck injury

Medicines listed below are available for Neck injury. Please note that you should not take any medicines without doctor consultation. Taking any medicine without doctor's consultation can cause serious problems.