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Cervical Strain

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is a cervical strain?

A cervical strain is a stretched or torn muscle or tendon in your neck. Tendons are strong tissues that connect muscles to bones.

What are the signs and symptoms of a cervical strain?

  • Pain and stiffness
  • Limited movement
  • Headache
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness or vertigo

How is a cervical strain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will check your movement, balance, and strength. An x-ray, CT, or MRI may show the injury. You may be given contrast liquid to help your neck show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a cervical strain treated?

You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and 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.
  • Muscle relaxers help decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Apply heat on your neck for 15 to 20 minutes, 4 to 6 times a day or as directed. Heat helps decrease pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms.
  • Begin gentle neck exercises as soon as you can move your neck without pain. Exercises will help decrease stiffness and improve the strength and movement of your neck. Ask your healthcare provider what kind of exercises you should do.
  • Gradually return to your usual activities as directed. Stop if you have pain. Avoid activities that can cause more damage to your neck, such as heavy lifting or strenuous exercise.
  • Sleep without a pillow to help decrease pain. Instead, roll a small towel tightly and place it under your neck.
  • Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

Prevent another neck injury:

  • Drive safely. Make sure everyone in your car wears a seatbelt. A seatbelt can save your life if you are in an accident. Do not use your cell phone when you are driving. This could distract you and cause an accident. Pull over if you need to make a call or send a text message.
  • Wear helmets, lifejackets, and protective gear. Always wear a helmet when you ride a bike or motorcycle, go skiing, or play sports that could cause a head injury. Wear protective equipment when you play sports. Wear a lifejacket when you are on a boat or doing water sports.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have pain or numbness from your shoulder down to your hand.
  • You have problems with your vision, hearing, or balance.
  • You feel confused or cannot concentrate.
  • You have problems with movement and strength.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have increased swelling or pain in your neck.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.