Neck Sprain

Neck Sprain

John Miller Physiotherapist

Article by John Miller

Neck Sprain

What is a Neck Sprain?

A neck sprain, neck spasms, neck muscle strain, or simply neck muscle pain, are common conditions.

Neck sprains are perhaps the most frequent cause of neck pain, and the good news is that they heal and rehabilitate quickly.

What Causes Neck Sprain?

Most neck sprains are related to muscles, ligaments, or joints. Muscle fatigue (resulting from poor posture, extended sitting or sleeping, such as wry neck), heavy lifting, and high-speed injuries (like whiplash or concussions) are the primary culprits. Common causes of neck injuries involve strained neck muscles, sprained ligaments, or dysfunctional neck joints, especially when pain emerges abruptly during or after physical activity.

The causes of neck pain can be categorised as follows:

Neck Muscle Strain

Neck muscle pain is the leading source of neck discomfort, often linked to muscle fatigue, excessive loads, or improper posture during lifting or sitting.

Posture Fatigue

Poor posture while sitting, standing, or lifting at work can strain your neck and spine. Muscle fatigue or overextension can stretch ligaments and discs, putting pressure on spinal joint muscles and nerves, leading to neck or back pain.

Neck Ligament Sprains

Ligaments are robust, fibrous bands that limit movement at each spinal level. Stretching them too far or too fast can result in tearing, leading to swelling, spasms, and pain. Common causes include awkward lifting, sports injuries, and motor vehicle accidents like whiplash.

Symptoms of Neck Sprain

Neck muscle pain symptoms range from a mild ache, stiffness, spasms, muscle knots, to sudden, severe neck pain and even shoulder or shoulder blade pain.

Typical neck sprain symptoms include:

  • Localised neck pain and stiffness.
  • Neck muscle tenderness, tightness, knots, or spasms.

You may feel better when at rest or with neck support, but changing your neck’s position, such as looking down, up, or sideways, can be painful.

Warning Signs of a More Serious Neck Injury

In severe cases or if you experience constant, intense neck pain, pins and needles or numbness, it may indicate a more substantial injury, like a disc bulge or pinched nerve. These can affect your upper and lower limb function, and in severe instances, even your bladder or bowel control. In such cases, consult your nearest hospital, doctor, or physiotherapist.

Neurological signs:

  • pins and needles (paraesthesia) in your neck or arm
  • numbness (anaesthesia) in your neck or arm,
  • arm or leg muscle weakness,
  • altered tendon reflexes (e.g. biceps to triceps jerk),
  • difficulty lifting arms overhead or walking,
  • loss of control of the bladder or bowels.

Neck Sprain Diagnosis

Distinguishing between a neck muscle strain and ligament sprain can be challenging due to their similar symptoms. Seek the professional guidance of a healthcare practitioner, like your neck physiotherapist, to accurately assess your condition. Diagnostic tests like X-rays, MRI scans, or CT scans may be recommended to determine the extent of your injury.

Neck Sprain Treatment

Get a Professional Diagnosis!

Consult a spinal health professional, such as a physiotherapist, for a thorough evaluation of your neck. While pain relief is a primary goal, addressing your injury comprehensively is essential to prevent future recurrence.

Neck Sprain Treatment Goals

PHASE I – Pain Relief & Protection

Your initial focus in neck sprain treatment is pain management and protection. Various tools may be employed to alleviate pain and inflammation, including ice, electrotherapy, taping techniques, soft tissue massage, and back braces. Medication, such as ibuprofen, may also be recommended.

PHASE II – Restoring Normal ROM, Strength

Once pain and inflammation subside, your physiotherapist will concentrate on restoring normal neck motion, muscle strength, endurance, and joint position sense. They will design a muscle stability program tailored to your specific needs.

PHASE III – Restoring Full Function

Recovery aims to restore your function for a safe return to daily activities or sports. Your treatment will be personalised based on your unique demands.

PHASE IV – Preventing Neck Pain Recurrence

Preventing a recurring neck pain is crucial, often linked to insufficient rehabilitation. Regular exercises targeting deep neck flexor muscles can enhance neck stability and minimise the risk of re-injury.

Neck Pain Treatment Options

Your physiotherapist can discuss various treatment options, depending on the source of your symptoms, such as joint techniques, stretches, strengthening, posture improvement, acupuncture or dry needling, massage etc. Please be guided by their professional care.

Recovery Expectations

Early diagnosis and treatment are vital for a quicker recovery. While pure neck muscle pain can improve within a week or two with proper management, prolonged pain may signal an underlying issue.

Most individuals recover from neck pain within 4 to 6 weeks, but this can vary based on the nature of the injury and your treatment plan.

Preventing Recurring Neck Pain

If you’ve experienced neck pain before, you’re at a higher risk of recurrence. Following your physiotherapist’s guidance and maintaining proper posture and lifting techniques can help reduce this risk. Discuss your daily activities with your physiotherapist to learn how to minimise the risk of injury based on your specific condition and weaknesses.

Neck Pain Causes

Welcome to the "Neck Pain Causes" page, where we comprehensively explore the factors contributing to neck pain. Neck pain results from a wide array of issues, including injuries to neck joints, muscle-related incidents, bone-related traumas, disc-related problems, nerve-related discomfort, vertigo symptoms, occupational triggers, headache and migraine factors, systemic diseases, and more.

Whether you seek information about muscle cramps, whiplash, osteoporosis, or posture improvement products, this page offers valuable insights and answers to frequently asked questions, aiding your understanding and management of neck pain causes.

General Information

Neck Joint Injuries

Muscle-related Injuries

Bone-related Injuries

Disc-related Injuries

Nerve-related / Referred Pain


Occupational Causes


Systemic Diseases

Neck & Posture Products & FAQs

Neck Pain FAQs

Your Comprehensive Guide

General Neck Pain FAQs

Concerned About Neck Pain - When Should You Be?

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Neck Pain Causes - What Are The Common Culprits?

  • Explore the most frequent causes of neck pain.

Preventing Neck Pain - How Can You Avoid Neck Pain in the First Place?

  • Discover strategies to prevent neck pain before it starts.

Text Neck - What Is It Exactly?

  • Understand how modern technology contributes to neck pain.

Cervical Radiculopathy - How Does It Feel?

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Age and Neck Pain - Is Neck Pain More Common as You Get Older?

  • Find out how aging affects neck pain.
Neck Pain
Neck Pain

FAQs on Neck Treatment

Your Road to Relief Relieving Neck Pain - What Can You Do?

  • Explore various methods to relieve neck pain.

Dealing with a Wry Neck - Can You Fix It?

  • Learn about treatments and remedies for a wry neck.

Banishing Neck and Arm Pain - How's It Possible?

  • Understand the connection between neck and arm pain and how to alleviate it.

Physiotherapy FAQs - What to Expect from Physiotherapy for Neck Pain?

  • Know what to expect from physiotherapy sessions for neck pain.

Medication FAQs - When is Medication Necessary for Neck Pain?

  • Learn about the role of medication in managing neck pain.

Surgery FAQs - When is Neck Surgery Considered as an Option?

  • Find out when surgery becomes a necessary option for neck pain.

Neck Exercises

Exercise FAQs - What Neck Exercises Can Help Alleviate Discomfort?

  • Discover exercises that can help in reducing neck discomfort.

Strengthening and Stabilising Your Neck - How It's Done

  • Learn techniques to strengthen and stabilise your neck.

Stretching FAQs - How Can Stretching Benefit Your Neck Health?

  • Understand the benefits of neck stretching exercises.

Neck, Vertigo & Dizziness FAQs

Can Your Neck Trigger Vertigo or Dizziness?

  • Explore the link between neck issues and vertigo or dizziness.

Headache FAQs

Solving Neck-Related Headaches

  • Find solutions for headaches caused by neck problems.

Bid Farewell to Neck Headaches - How to Do It

  • Learn strategies to overcome neck-related headaches.

Posture FAQs

Correcting Years of Poor Posture

  • Get tips on how to correct long-standing poor posture.

Improving Your Posture - What Steps to Take

  • Understand the steps necessary for improving your posture.

Posture Improvement Products & FAQs - Your Posture Allies

  • Discover products that can aid in improving your posture.

Lifestyle and Ergonomics FAQs

How Can Your Daily Habits Affect Neck Health?

  • Learn how everyday habits impact neck health.

Pillow FAQs

Finding the Perfect Pillow

  • Tips on how to find the ideal pillow for neck support.

Pillows: The Ultimate Guide

  • A comprehensive guide to choosing the right pillow.

Healthiest Sleeping Postures - What Are They?

  • Understand the best sleeping postures for neck health.

Choosing the Best Pillow - What Works for You?

  • Guidance on selecting the best pillow based on individual needs.

Identifying an Unsupportive Pillow - The Telltale Signs

  • Learn the signs of a pillow that doesn't provide adequate support.
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