Cervical Sprain Overview

Cervical Sprain Overview

While many hazards can lead to serious injuries, car accidents are among the most common. In addition, motor vehicle accidents are also preventable. There are many different reasons why somebody could be involved in a car wreck. Some of these include speeding, driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, distracted driving, and weather-related issues. For these reasons, auto accidents are much more common than most people realize. Some of the statistics regarding auto  accidents that were recently published by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) include:

  • In 2016, nearly 10 percent of people reported not wearing a seatbelt while driving.
  • In 2015, about 40 percent of people who ride motorcycles reported not wearing their helmet.
  • In 2014, close to 2,000 young drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 were killed in a car accident.
  • Also in 2014, nearly 4,000 individuals were killed in accidents involving large trucks.
  • Close to 100 people are killed in motor vehicle accidents, on average, on a daily basis.
  • Every year, millions of people suffer serious injuries that impact them for the rest of their lives.

These numbers demonstrate that auto accidents are multifactorial. There are many different types of motor vehicle accidents and many various reasons why collisions occur. The injuries that people suffer in a car crash are just as diverse. One of the most common injuries is a cervical sprain.

What is the Cervical Spine?

The spine is one of the most critical parts of the body. It connects the base of the skull to the rest of the body. The spinal cord is protected by bony segments called vertebrae. These vertebrae guard the nerves of the spinal cord against blunt and penetrating injuries that would otherwise cause severe nerve damage. The spine itself is broken up into different regions including the cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral regions. The cervical area of the spinal cord is at the top just beneath the base of the skull. The cervical spine is the most mobile portion of the spinal cord. This mobility makes it flexible but also predisposes it to injury in a traumatic accident.

Definition of a Cervical Sprain

As mentioned above, the spine is divided into multiple segments with the top part being the cervical region. For the neck to bend back and forth, there must be muscular tissues that support this motion. Some important ligaments and tendons join the muscles to the bone. In some cases, such as traumatic accidents, these muscles, tendons, and ligaments can be stretched farther than they should. When this happens, the muscle fibers could tear slightly. The ligaments and tendons could become partially detached from the spine. This is called a cervical strain or sprain, also known as a sprained spine. This can be very painful, and it can take several weeks or months to recover. In particularly severe scenarios, individuals could have pain for the rest of his or her life.

How Does a Cervical Sprain Happen?

There are multiple ways that a sprain of the spine could occur. Some of the ways that individuals might suffer a cervical whiplash injury include:

Motor Vehicle Accident: Without a doubt, this is one of the most common mechanisms of a cervical strain or sprain. In an auto accident, there are powerful forces that could cause someone to change direction quickly. Even though individuals might be wearing their seatbelts, there is no restraint for the head. This causes the neck to snap back and forth quickly. This can stretch the tendons in and around the cervical spine, leading to a wrenched neck.

Bicycle Accident: Most people have heard the saying that once people learn how to ride a bike, they never forget. Unfortunately, no matter how comfortable someone is while riding a bicycle, an accident can occur. Perhaps this is due to an equipment issue. Maybe the rider is struck by a motor vehicle. Even though a helmet can protect an individual against a traumatic brain injury, a whiplash injury of the cervical spine can still occur.

Slip and Fall Accidents: A slip and fall accident can also lead to a cervical sprain. When people slip and fall, whether it is on a wet floor or an icy sidewalk, they can strike their head and neck on the ground. This can strain the tendons and ligaments in the cervical spine, which could lead to a severe sprain.

Ultimately, these are only a few of the endless number of mechanisms by which people could stretch and damage their cervical spine. Sometimes, people might not be able to tell that they have hurt their back. It is vital for everyone to understand some of the most common symptoms that indicate neck ligaments pain.

Watch YouTube Video: Neck Strains and Sprains. The short video below provides a 3-dimensional look at how a cervical sprain can occur and how the injury can affect the rest of the body.

Symptoms of a Cervical Spine Sprain

If someone has suffered a cervical neck sprain, there are a variety of symptoms that might appear. It is essential for everyone to remember that some people might experience more than one of these symptoms while others might only have a single manifestation. If these symptoms show up after a traumatic accident, people need to seek the attention of a medical professional. Some of the most common symptoms of a cervical sprain include:

  • Chronic, nagging pain that shows up in the neck and gets worse with movement, particularly with a rotation of the neck.
  • Pain that doesn't show up immediately after the accident but typically manifests a day or two later.
  • The feeling of muscle cramps and spasms in the neck and shoulders.
  • A chronic headache that is worst in the back of the head at the base of the skull.
  • A sore throat that gets worse with eating and swallowing.
  • Increased irritability, fatigue, and trouble sleeping.
  • Difficulty concentrating while at work.
  • Intermittent numbness in the fingers, hand, and wrist.
  • A decreased range of motion of the neck, including side to side and up and down movements.
  • The feeling of tingling or shooting pains down the arms.

This is a long list of symptoms that could indicate an acute cervical sprain. Depending on the exact location of the sprain and the severity of the injury, people might have more than one of these symptoms. The doctor is going to ask about the timing and severity of these symptoms before moving forward with the diagnosis. Once a thorough history has been completed, a physical exam is necessary.

The Physical Exam of a Cervical Sprain

Once the doctor has taken a thorough history and categorized the mechanism of the accident and the symptoms that have appeared, a physical exam is next. There are a few different maneuvers that the physician is likely to perform. Some of the tasks might include:

  • Measuring the range of motion of the neck, both in an up and down and side to side motion.
  • Flexing and extending the arms, wrists, and fingers to check and see if this changes the pain level.
  • Measuring the range of motion of the shoulders.
  • Pressing along the shoulders, arms, back, neck, and head to check for any signs of point tenderness.
  • Testing the sensation along the shoulders, arms, and back to see if there is any numbness or tingling.
  • Assessing the tone and strength of the various muscle groups of the upper body.

Once this is done, the doctor will let the individual know what will happen next. In some cases, the doctor might have all of the information that he or she needs to make a diagnosis of a cervical sprain. In other cases, imaging could be required.

Imaging Might be Needed to Rule Out Other Injuries

Once the history and physical exam have been completed, the doctor might need to order imaging. Some of the pictures that the doctor might need to take include X-Rays, CT Scans, or MRIs. These are necessary to take a look at not only the spine but also the bones in and around the site of the injury.

X-Rays: An X-Ray is one of the oldest medical imaging procedure around. In an X-Ray, a 2D beam of radiation is fired, and an image is generated based on the density of the material. X-Rays are typically ordered to make sure that there isn't a bone fracture in the vertebrae, arms, and shoulders that might have been missed.

CT Scans: A CT Scan can be thought of like an X-Ray in three dimensions. A CT Scan, like an X-Ray, generates its image based on the density of the material through which it is passing. On the other hand, this is a 3D picture, so the image is far more detailed. This scan might be ordered to take a look at the skull and make sure that a head injury does not accompany the spinal injury.

MRI Scan: If there is any suspicion that the spinal cord itself might be damaged, an MRI scan is likely to be ordered. This scan does not use radiation, which is a major plus. However, it takes a long time to be completed. The detail it generates is unparalleled, so it is great for looking at the small nerves of the spine.

These imaging scans are of vital importance to make sure that other associated injuries aren't present. If they are, they might be a medical emergency. In many cases, these imaging scans are going to be normal. In this case, the diagnosis is made, and the treatment process can begin.

Treatment Options for a Cervical Sprain

Once all of this has been completed, the doctor will make the diagnosis of a cervical sprain. For some people, this might be a confusing diagnosis. However, the prognosis for most of these injuries is favorable. Like other traumatic injuries, several treatment options are available. Some of these include:

Rest: The most important part of treating this injury is to take a break. The muscles and tendons are going to need time to heal. This doesn't mean that the neck needs to be immobilized. However, people should avoid stressful motions for a short while after the injury.

Collar: For people who have a severe cervical sprain, they might need to wear a soft collar to cushion the neck. This collar can provide some much-needed support to the head, relieving some of the stress on the tendons and ligaments. This will give them time to heal.

Medication: Many people will need to take drugs to try and relieve some of their pain. Some common medications include Tylenol and Motrin. These are sold over the counter and help to reduce the inflammation. For many people, this is enough. However, in some situations, stronger medicines might be necessary

Muscle Relaxants: Some people could require muscle relaxants to try and relieve the tension. For those with spasms and cramps, these are typically necessary. One example is a medication called Flexeril. This is an effective medication for those with a severe sprain. However, it could cause drowsiness. Individuals taking this medication need to use extreme caution while operating a motor vehicle.

Ice and HeatAlternating ice and heat is an effective treatment option for a cervical sprain. Ice is used to quench the inflammation and relieve the stress. However, ice will also cause the muscles to contract. Therefore, it often reduces the range of motion of the neck. To fix this problem, heat is used to relax the muscles and improve the range of motion. These two should be alternated several times during the initial recovery process.

Massage: Those who have suffered a severe sprain should also consider receiving massage therapy. Following a severe injury, lactic acid might build up inside of the muscles. Massage can help release the lactic acid from the neck, helping to improve the comfort level. Massage can also help relax the fibers and restore the flexibility of the ligaments and tendons.

In general, most people who suffer a cervical sprain will recover in about a month. Some individuals might even notice cervical spine straightening. On the other hand, some people might develop serious complications.

Watch YouTube Video: Physical Therapy for the Neck: Stretching & Relaxation for Neck Physical Therapy. In this video, Dr. David Pakozdi demonstrates the best methods to stretch and relax the neck during a neck physical therapy.

Complications of a Sprain of the Cervical Spine

Even though many people who suffer a sprain of the cervical spine will make a full recovery, others might develop serious complications. Some of these issues include:

Chronic Pain: One of the most serious complications is chronic pain. A chronic cervical strain has the potential to avulse the nerve roots from the cervical spine itself. When this happens, individuals can develop chronic, shooting pains that travel down the back, shoulders, and arms.

Motor Function Loss: Another issue that could arise is the loss of motor function. If the nerves are severely damaged, people could notice a feeling of fatigue and weakness in the arms and shoulders. This could become a permanent issue that makes it hard to return to work or school.

When someone develops complications of an injury, such as a cervical lumbar strain, following an auto accident, it is important to ask for help.

Contacting an Injury Attorney

If an individual is involved in a severe motor vehicle accident, it is possible that he or she could suffer serious injuries. In some cases, these injuries could have long-term complications that make it difficult to return to school or work. This can place the entire family under a large amount of stress. In these situations, it is helpful to meet with an injury lawyer in Sacramento. Some of the ways that an injury attorney can help include:

  • Serving as an objective presence to help families make challenging but important decisions.
  • Reviewing the records from an accident to make sure that important details have not been missed.
  • Making sure that the liability in an accident has been assigned to the appropriate party.
  • Helping families pursue damages that are related to their injuries, emotional distress, and suffering.
  • Taking a case to the court system, if needed.

It is understandable for families to have questions following a severe motor vehicle crash. Their questions deserve to be answered. For this reason, take a few minutes to meet with a personal injury attorney in Sacramento. You and your loved ones could be deserving of a financial reward.

Sacramento Personal Injury Attorneys

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento Personal Injury Attorney. A cervical sprain can be a painful, serious, and long-term injury following a motor vehicle accident. If you or a loved one have suffered injuries in a car accident, call me at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly legal advice.

I am pleased to be a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum.

I'm also proud to be a member of the National Association of Distinguished Counsel.

Feel free to see our past verdicts and settlements here.

Please take a few minutes to see our client reviews on YelpAvvo, & Google.

Image Attribution: The photo at the start of this article is seen in its original form on Unsplash. The image has been reproduced here with permission/ Cervical Sprain Overview.

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