Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Our Specialties

Neck Sprains and Strains


The spinal column is made up of small bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of one another, creating the natural curves of the back. Muscles and ligaments connect the vertebrae and allow motion while providing support and stability for the spine and upper body.

The spine contains three segments: lumbar, thoracic and cervical. The cervical spine includes the neck and consists of seven small vertebrae, beginning at the base of the skull and ending at the upper chest. The cervical spine supports the weight of the head and connects it to the shoulders and body. It is less protected than the rest of the spine, making it more vulnerable to injury and disorders that produce pain and restricted motion.

Muscles and ligaments connect the vertebrae and allow motion while providing support and stability for the spine and upper body. Tendons are fibrous cords of tissue that attach the muscles to bone. Ligaments are strong bands of connective tissue that connect one bone to another and support the joints of the body.


Sprains and strains are injuries to ligaments, muscles or tendons. A sprain is the simple stretch or tear of a ligament. A strain may be a simple stretch of a muscle or tendon, or it may be a partial or complete tear in the muscle/tendon combination.


A person with a neck sprain or strain may experience one or more of a wide range of symptoms, including:

  • Pain, especially in the back of the neck, that worsens with movement
  • Pain that peaks one or more days after the injury, instead of immediately
  • Muscle spasms and pain in the upper shoulder
  • Headache in the back of the head
  • Sore throat
  • Increased irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty concentrating
  • Numbness in the arm or hand
  • Tingling or weakness in the arms
  • Neck stiffness or a decreased range of motion (side to side, up and down, circular)

Nonsurgical Treatment

The recommended treatment for sprains and strains, wherever they are located in the body, is similar: rest, ice, compression and elevation, followed by simple exercises to relieve pain and restore mobility. Neck sprains and strains typically heal gradually over time, with appropriate treatment. Your doctor may prescribe a soft collar worn around the neck to help support the head and relieve pressure on ligaments, tendons and muscles while they heal. Other treatment options include massaging the tender area, ultrasound, cervical (neck) traction, and aerobic or isometric exercise. Your physician or physical therapist may prescribe specific exercises to help you improve strength and flexibility, restore movement, and provide relief from uncomfortable symptoms. Physical therapy is often a key factor in successfully recovering from a wide range of conditions and disorders.

Most symptoms of a neck sprain will go away within 4 to 6 weeks, however, it may take longer for more severe injuries to heal completely.


For a serious tear, surgery may be needed to repair the soft tissues.

With any surgery there are some risks, and these vary from person to person. Complications are typically minor, treatable and unlikely to affect your final outcome. Your orthopaedic surgeon will speak to you prior to surgery to explain any potential risks and complications that may be associated with your procedure.