Like back strain, neck strain is an irritation to tendons, muscles and ligaments in the upper back and neck area. Whiplash is characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck, usually because of sudden extension and flexion, such as in a car accident. Sometimes neck strain can be brought on by an abrupt movement by the neck, such as whiplash.
Neck injury symptoms can include:
- Pain or stiffness related to strained tendons and ligaments in the neck
- Inability to turn the head, or pain with head movement
- Radiating pain into an arm or hand
- Numbness or weakness in a hand
- inability to sleep, irritability or memory loss
This symptoms may be present right after a neck injury or may appear a few days after an injury, like a car accident where the neck experiences “whiplash.”
The physician will assemble information through the following ways to determine what may be the pain generator:
- Medical history: The neck specialist will conduct a medical history to understand the possible causes of your back and neck pain which can help outline the most appropriate treatment.
- Physical exam: During the physical exam, the neck specialist will try to pinpoint the source of pain. Simple tests for flexibility and muscle strength may also be conducted.
- X-rays are a common first step in diagnostic testing. X-rays show bones and the space between bones. X-rays are of limited value, however, since they do not show muscles and ligaments.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to generate highly detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Since X-rays only show bones, MRIs are needed to visualize soft tissues like discs in the spine. This type of imaging is very safe and usually pain-free.
- CT scan/myelogram: A CT scan is similar to an MRI in that it provides diagnostic information about the internal structures of the spine. A myelogram is used to diagnose a bulging disc, tumor, or changes in the bones surrounding the spinal cord or nerves. A local anesthetic is injected into the low back to numb the area. Then a dye is injected into the spinal canal to reveal where problems lie.