Neck Strain Causes and Treatment

Whiplash is a condition caused by injury to the soft-tissue structures of the cervical spine, or neck region. Usually, whiplash is a strain of the muscles or sprain of the ligaments that move and support the spine and head. Often whiplash occurs after a sudden, unexpected movement of extension and flexion of the neck, most commonly during a car crash. This can also be the result of sleeping or holding the neck in an awkward position.

Young woman in bed with neck ache
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Why the Neck Is Vulnerable

The neck is prone to a whiplash type of injury because of the demands placed on the cervical spine. The cervical vertebrae are connected with ligaments and supported by muscles. Together, these structures must provide our heads with support and allow a wide range of motions. These demands make our necks prone to whiplash or neck strain injury. When the muscles or ligaments are injured, and the demands of the cervical spine are compromised, and the resulting pain quickly interferes with our daily lives. That's why whiplash injuries are so problematic.


A brief period of resting the neck muscles will help alleviate the initial pain and spasm of the neck muscles after whiplash. Allowing the muscles and ligaments around the cervical spine to rest and recover is an important aspect of treatment. However, prolonged rest may be ill-advised, because of resulting stiffness. If resting does not alleviate symptoms of whiplash, you should have further evaluation by your doctor.

A few other simple steps may help your neck strain symptoms:

All treatment of neck strain injuries should be guided by a physician. If it is clear that your symptoms are due to a simple neck strain or ligament sprain, then these steps should help your condition. It is important, however, to know the cause of the symptoms, because more than just whiplash can cause neck pain.

Symptoms That Indicate Something Other Than Whiplash

There are many other conditions that can cause neck pain, some of which are serious and require medical attention. While the most common cause of these symptoms is whiplash or neck strain, there are other signs to watch for that could indicate other problems:

  • Weakness of the hands or arms: These symptoms may be due to compression of the spinal cord or the spinal nerves which exit the cord. Some causes of this include ruptured discs and spinal stenosis.
  • Numbness or abnormal sensations in the hands and arms: Again, these symptoms can be caused by injury to the spinal cord or nerves. If these symptoms are present, then you should have further evaluation.
  • Pain accompanied by unusual weight changes or fevers: It is important that neck pain accompanied by these symptoms, as well as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, fevers, chills, or sweats, be further evaluated. While it is unusual, these can be the first signs of infections or tumors.
  • Lack of improvement over time: Any problem such as this that does not improve over time should be further evaluated. If the initial diagnosis is whiplash, but the neck continues to be problematic, further evaluation should take place.

There are chronic conditions (such as arthritis and osteoporosis) and acute problems (such as fractures) that can cause symptoms similar to a neck strain. If your symptoms worsen instead of improve or if they are not relieved with rest, you should see a doctor.

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