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Most minor strains of ligaments, tendons, and muscles in the neck 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. Often times, a healthcare practitioner will get the question, "What should I use, ice or heat, cold or heat?" And the answer varies. But typically, in the beginning stages of pain, the first 24 to 48 hours, ice can be more effective, and then later, the next few days, heat can be more effective. Although some people prefer to use one over the other, there’s no steadfast answer here. Also applying heat can be moist or dry heat and ice packs can be in simply the form of ice bags or frozen wraps.
There are other over-the-counter medications, for example, that can be used, such as NSAIDs or Tylenol. NSAIDs, which stand for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, 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 pain that's in the neck, perhaps doesn't have any other warning signs, would be massage, for example. Massage of the area 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 typically can be, you can undergo some self-care home remedies. Give it a few days, see if it goes away, 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, or getting out of the house, then maybe this is something that 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 through conservative home measures, they should probably seek medical attention. They can go to their chiropractor, to their family doctor, to their 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. Just mentioned chiropractor or osteopathic manipulations. These are hands-on treatments, manipulations of the spine, which can treat less severe injuries, musculoskeletal injuries of the spine. Very conservative-type treatments. Also your healthcare practitioner can prescribe medications, perhaps muscle relaxants, to take care of the muscle spasms that accompany a muscular cervical strain. There can be anti-inflammatory medications that are prescribed, which decrease the pain, or other analgesics.
Often times, when pain is unrelenting, medications don’t work, or a conjunction, more times, with medication, 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.
Often times the pain associated with a cervical strain can be indicative of an underlying, more complex medical condition. For example, there could befacet 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 often times 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.