Skip to Content

Cervical Strain


What is a cervical strain?

A cervical strain is when muscles or tendons in your neck are stretched. Tendons are strong tissues that connect muscles to bones. Cervical strain may be called whiplash because it can happen when your neck is quickly whipped forward and back. The pain may be sudden, or it may begin hours after the injury. Cervical strain is most commonly caused by a car accident or a contact sports injury.

How is a cervical strain treated?

  • Acetaminophen 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.
  • 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 how to take this medicine safely.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • 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.
  • Apply ice on your neck for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness of your arms, face, or scalp.
  • You have shortness of breath, a hoarse voice, or problems swallowing.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • Your neck pain gets worse.
  • 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 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.

© 2015 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.