Cervical Spine Strain

What is 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.


How is cervical spine strain treated?

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

  • 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 need medicine to take away or decrease pain.

    • Learn how to take your medicine. Ask what medicine and how much you should take. Be sure you know how, when, and how often to take it.

    • Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine. Tell caregivers if your pain does not decrease.

    • Pain medicine can make you dizzy or sleepy. Prevent falls by calling someone when you get out of bed or if you need help.

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

How can I manage my cervical spine strain?

  • 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 caregiver 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 the ice on your neck for 15 to 20 minutes every hour. Do this for as many days as directed.

  • 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.

  • 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.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your neck pain is getting worse.

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

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

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

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

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 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.

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