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Cervical Spine Strain


Cervical spine strain is when the tissues and muscles in your neck are stretched. It is called whiplash because it happens when your neck is quickly whipped forward and back. The pain may be sudden, or it may begin hours after the injury. Cervical spine strain is most commonly caused by a car accident or a contact sports injury.



  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

  • Acetaminophen: This medicine decreases pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.

  • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

  • Muscle relaxers: This medicine helps relax your muscles. It is also given to decrease pain and muscle spasms.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Soft collar:

You may need to wear a soft cervical collar to support your neck and hold it still. You may need to wear this collar for 7 to 10 days. By day 3, your primary healthcare provider may tell you to take the collar off for short periods of time. He may tell you to wear the collar less each day until you no longer need it.


  • Rest: Avoid moving your neck as your injury heals. This will help decrease the risk of more damage to your neck. Gradually return to your normal activities. Stop if you have pain. Avoid activities that can cause more damage to your neck, such as heavy lifting or strenuous exercise.

  • Ice: Ice your neck to help decrease swelling and pain. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice bag with a towel and place it on your neck for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. Do this for as many days as directed.

  • Heat: Apply heat to your neck for 15 to 20 minutes several times each day. You can alternate heat and ice to help with your pain.

  • Sleep: Sleep without a pillow to help decrease pain. Instead of a pillow, you may roll a small towel tightly and place it under your neck. A soft collar may also help you sleep.

Physical therapy:

You may need to see a physical therapist to teach you special exercises. These exercises help improve movement and decrease pain. Physical therapy can also help improve strength and decrease your risk for loss of function.

Contact your primary healthcare provider if:

  • Your neck pain is getting worse.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness of your arms, legs, face, or scalp.

  • You have shortness of breath, a hoarse voice, or problems swallowing.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Cervical Spine Strain (Aftercare Instructions)