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Guide to a Cervical sprain or strain

What is a Cervical Sprain or Strain?

The cervical spine (neck) is connected by muscles and ligaments which are like strong bands of tissue that act like thick rubber bands. The neck has a wide range of movement in all directions which is supported by the complex structure of muscles, ligaments and tendons. A cervical sprain/strain is when one or more of these muscles or ligaments are injured.

What causes a Cervical sprain or strain?

Cervical sprain/strains can result from a single traumatic injury such as sudden bending or twisting of the neck or as a result of chronic repetitive overloading of the structures in the neck which causes tears to develop in the muscles and ligaments.

These injuries can also develop over time due to prolonged poor posture. Muscle strain can be accompanied by inflammation around the injured tissue and lead to neck muscle spasms as the body tries to stabilize the injury.

How is a Cervical sprain or strain diagnosed?

Our practitioners will take a detailed history of the presenting complaint followed by a detailed physical examination which will help them in their diagnosis. The usual presentation of a cervical sprain/strain is the abrupt onset of pain or the gradual development in the hours or days following an injury.

Symptoms typically felt are constant dull ache that becomes sharp and intense with movement. Pain that is localized to the neck region, is throbbing or achy in character and stiffness in the neck.

How is a Cervical sprain or strain treated?

Cervical sprain/strains usually resolve after a few days, however, flare-ups or aching pain may continue for weeks to come after the injury. The primary aim of conservative treatment will be in controlling pain and inflammation. Once the pain and muscle spasms are under control, the second goal of treatments is the restoration of the necks range of motion, myofascial release and stretching exercises on specific muscle groups to prevent further injuries from reoccurring.

Spinal manipulation has been shown to be a valuable tool for the restoration of normal joint mechanics in sprain/strain injuries. The practitioner may also advise you on home exercises with the aim to increase strength and improve the flexibility of the neck.


Hurwitz EL, Aker PD, Adams AH, Meeker WC, Shekelle PG. Manipulation and mobilization of the cervical spine: a systematic review of the literature. Spine. 1996 Aug 1;21(15):1746-59.

Zmurko MG, Tannoury TY, Tannouty CA, Anderson DG. Cervical sprains, disc herniations, minor fractures, and other cervical injuries in the athlete. Clinics in sports medicine. 2003 Jul 1;22(3):513-21.

Dorshimer GW, Kelly M. Cervical pain in the athlete: common conditions and treatment. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2005 Mar 1;32(1):231-43.

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