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Most minor strains of ligaments, tendons, and muscles heal relatively quickly, perhaps in just a few days. Until the symptoms subside, there are many self-care remedies that can be employed to alleviate the pain and stiffness in the neck. For example, you can apply ice and cold packs. Oftentimes a health care practitioner will get the question, "what should I use - ice or heat, cold or heat?" And the answer varies. Typically in the beginning stages of pain - the first twenty-four or forty-eight hours - ice can be more effective, and then later in the next few days heat can be more effective. Although some people prefer to use one over the other, there is no steadfast answer there. Also applying heat can be moist or dry heat and ice packs can be simply the form of ice packs or frozen wraps.
There are other over-the-counter medications that can be used, such as NSAIDs or Tylenol. NSAIDs stand for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, a common example of which would be ibuprofen. Tylenol is not an NSAID, but it does alleviate the pain. Other more conservative treatments for quick onset, non-severe that's in the neck that perhaps doesn't have any other warning signs would be massage, for example. Massage can be very conservative and quite effective. Now what are some of the warning signs, what are some of the things we should look out for that should prompt us to go to the doctor sooner rather than later? Stiffness in the neck, difficulty in ranging the neck - that's an acute neck pain that you can undergo some healthcare home remedies; give it a few days, see if it goes away and gets better on its own. If the pain gets progressively worse, if it doesn't alleviate over several days, if it gets in the way of you functioning, going to work, getting out of the house, then maybe this is something you should go see your healthcare practitioner about. Also if a patient experiences numbness, tingling, weakness, or burning sensation that emanates from the neck through the shoulder perhaps into the arm, this is a more serious condition and can indicate that there is an issue within the spinal cord or the spinal nerves and this should be evaluated by a healthcare practitioner.
If a patient experiences cervical strain and the symptoms don't subside with conservative home measures, they should probably seek medical attention. They can go to their chiropractor, family doctor, physiatrist, sports medicine doctor, or other healthcare practitioners who are specialized in treatment of cervical strains.
There are many types of treatments which can be employed. I just mentioned chiropractic or osteopathic manipulations. These are hands-on treatments, manipulations of the spine, which can treat less severe injuries - musculoskeletal injuries of the spine - and are conservative-type treatments. Also your healthcare practitioner can prescribe medications, perhaps muscle relaxants to take care of the muscle spasms that accompany the muscular cervical strain. There can be anti-inflammatory medications that are prescribed, which decrease the pain or other analgesics. Physical therapy can be employed. Physical therapy will work on range of motion of that joint, strengthening the joint, decreasing the muscle spasms. Modalities can be used, such as ultrasound, electrophoresis, and other units such as TENS units, which stands for transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.
Oftentimes the pain associated with a cervical strain can be indicative of an underlying, more complex medical condition. For example, there could be facet joint pain or disc degeneration or another inflammatory process deeper within the spine. The discs themselves may be degenerated, herniated, bulging. The facet joints, which are the small joints in the back of the spine which allow for movement of the neck, they could have arthritis - wear and tear - which causes pain, which then radiates out and refers out into the musculature of the neck and shoulders. If that's the case, then oftentimes injections - injection therapy - can be employed in order to treat the underlying condition to decrease the inflammation in those facet joints and to decrease the inflammation within the spinal canal, if that indeed is the cause of the underlying cervical pain.
Video presented by: Marco Funiciello, DO