- Who Gets It?
What is a strained neck muscle?
The muscles in your neck allow you to hold up your head and look around. There are many neck muscles and they can all be strained while doing some simple tasks. Many people strain neck muscles while they sleep in an awkward position.
If you suddenly have a pain in your neck after exercising or waking up from a nap, you might have pulled a muscle in your neck. Learn what a strained neck muscle is, how you can treat it, and how your doctor may be able to help.
You strain a muscle when you overstretch it or try to contract it too hard. A muscle strain is a tear in the muscle. A neck muscle strain occurs when you do something to one or more of the muscles in your neck that causes it to overstretch. There are several symptoms and conditions of neck muscle strains.
Symptoms of a strained neck muscle
When you strain a muscle, your body will react a few different ways depending on how severe the tear is. You might experience:
Causes of a strained neck muscle
Regardless of someone’s age, strains generally occur when they have not conditioned their muscles to take on the task they want to do. Examples include:
- Athletic activities that require explosive movement
- Stretching too far during warmup
- Overextending or using too much force on cold muscles
Neck muscles can be strained during much less intense moments, such as bending your head down to look at a phone or tablet or sleeping in the wrong position. You can strain a neck muscle by watching television at an odd angle for too long as well. This is common in modern society as we all spend more time looking down at a screen or sitting in front of a computer.
Who can strain a neck muscle?
A strain usually means you may have tried to lift something too heavy or attempted to use a muscle in a way you typically don’t. Lack of exercise and extended time in one position increase your chances of straining a neck muscle, but anyone can strain a neck muscle regardless of lifestyle.
Diagnosing a strained neck muscle
Diagnosis depends on how badly you’ve strained your neck. Doctors classify strains into three grades to diagnose and treat them:
- Grade I: mild damage to muscle tissue, with little loss of function and strength
- Grade II: more muscle fibers are torn, with reduced function and strength
- Grade III: a muscle or tendon is completely torn, with no muscle function
The doctor will conduct a physical examination of the area and ask about the circumstances surrounding the strain. They'll want to know about your medical history as well to see if there are any underlying conditions.
Doctors may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at muscle tears after an X-ray to ensure no bones are broken or tendons are torn. The treatment the doctor chooses depends on the grade of a muscle tear.
Treatments for a strained neck muscle
For Grade I and II strains, doctors usually prescribe the RICE method—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation—to treat the muscle, followed up with physical therapy to restrengthen the torn muscle and the surrounding fibers.
The doctor may give you a neck brace to help support your neck. The brace can either be a soft, supportive type or be rigid to provide more support.
A Grade III strain is a complete tear, so it will need to be treated by immobilizing the muscle with a cast if possible. Neck muscle strains are rarely Grade III unless there is severe trauma accompanying the strain.
Complications of a strained neck muscle
Grade I and II strains generally heal and function normally, even if you don’t see a doctor or treat yours. However, they might not recover fully if you don’t rehabilitate them correctly. This could make it easier to strain the muscle again or not get 100% of the muscle's function back.
If you’ve torn a neck muscle completely (Grade III), it is probably accompanied by spinal damage or injury. In this case, you might be experiencing several symptoms related to other injuries.
If you’ve had a whiplash-type injury, you might experience:
- Headaches and dizziness
- Ringing in the ears
- Pain, tingling, or numbness that radiates into the upper extremities
You should consult a doctor to rule out any more serious problems. The following symptoms could indicate a spinal cord injury:
- Instability in your neck
- Bowel and bladder control problems
- Difficulty walking
- Weakness in your arms and legs
If you experience those symptoms right after an injury to your neck, visit an emergency room as soon as you can.
Latest Chronic Pain News
Daily Health News
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Harvard Health Publishing: "Muscle Strain."
Hospital for Special Surgery: "Muscle Strain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment"
Top How Do You Treat a Strained Neck Muscle Related Articles
Chronic PainChronic pain is pain (an unpleasant sense of discomfort) that persists or progresses over a long period of time. In contrast to acute pain that arises suddenly in response to a specific injury and is usually treatable, chronic pain persists over time and is often resistant to medical treatments.
Could a Stiff Neck Be a Sign of Something Serious?Neck stiffness is a common issue that affects many people. Learn the signs of neck stiffness, what causes neck stiffness, how doctors diagnose neck stiffness, and how neck stiffness is treated.
Why Does My Head Ache?Find out what's behind your headache, and get some strategies to bring you relief for your pain.
Head and Neck CancerHead and neck cancer is cancer of the oral cavity, salivary glands, paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx, or lymph nodes in the upper part of the neck. These cancers account for 3% to 5% of cancers in the U.S. Tobacco and alcohol use are important risk factors. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
Neck Pain (Cervical Pain)Neck pain (cervical pain) may be caused by any number of disorders and diseases. Tenderness is another symptom of neck pain. Though treatment for neck pain really depends upon the cause, treatment typically may involve heat/ice application, traction, physical therapy, cortisone injection, topical anesthetic creams, and muscle relaxants.
Neck Pain and DizzinessNeck pain is any degree of discomfort in the front or back of the neck between the head and the shoulders. Dizziness is characterized as either vertigo with disequilibrium or lightheadedness associated with feeling faint or the potential to lose consciousness. Causes of neck pain and dizziness vary, and treatment depends on the cause. With any unexplained or persisting neck pain or dizziness, consult with a health care professional, who can determine whether the symptoms are harmless and temporary or serious and threatening.
Nerve Pain SlideshowLearn about nerve pain symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Discover medications and natural remedies to relieve nerve pain.
Pain ManagementPain management and treatment can be simple or complex, according to its cause. There are two basic types of pain, nociceptive pain and neuropathic pain. Some causes of neuropathic pain include:
- complex regional pain syndrome,
- interstitial cystitis,
- and irritable bowel syndrome.
Pain QuizIs pain all in the brain? Take the Pain Quiz to learn everything you've ever wanted to know about the unpleasant sensation we call pain.
Pain Management: Surprising Causes of PainWhat’s causing your pain? Learn the common causes of lower back pain, as well as pain in the knee, stomach, kidney, shoulder, chest, gallbladder, heel, sciatic nerve, neck, hip, foot and other parts of the body. Find pain management tips that work to help lower pain triggers, as well as other pain treatments.
15 Ways to Reduce PainChronic pain can be a symptom of many conditions, including arthritis, headaches, and others. Comprehensive pain management therapy may include physical therapy, lifestyle strategies such as exercise, diet changes, meditation, journaling, medications, and avoiding alcohol and tobacco use. Make helpful changes to manage your chronic condition.
Shoulder and Neck PainShoulder and neck pain may be caused by bursitis, a pinched nerve, whiplash, tendinitis, a herniated disc, or a rotator cuff injury. Symptoms also include weakness, numbness, coolness, color changes, swelling, and deformity. Treatment at home may incorporate resting, icing, and elevating the injury. A doctor may prescribe pain medications and immobilize the injury.