Neck Sprain Treatment

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Dr Poh Seng Yew



MMED (Ortho)



What is a Neck Sprain?

A neck sprain is a condition characterised by the stretching or tearing of ligaments in the neck. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones and stabilise the neck, helping maintain the structure and function of the cervical spine.

Neck sprains can range from mild discomfort to severe pain and are typically accompanied by symptoms like stiffness, tightness in neck muscles, and limited range of motion.

Causes of Neck Sprain

Neck sprain can occur due to a variety of factors, each contributing in different ways to the development of this condition.

  • Sudden Trauma
    Sudden, forceful movements that jolt the neck are a primary cause of neck sprains. Whiplash, a typical example, occurs in situations like car accidents, where the neck is rapidly thrust forward and backwards. This sudden movement strains the muscles and ligaments, leading to a sprain.
  • Poor Posture
    Prolonged periods of improper posture, like slouching or looking down at screens, can stress the neck. Over time, this can weaken the neck’s muscles and ligaments, resulting in a sprain.
  • Muscle Strain
    Activities involving excessive neck strain, such as heavy lifting or strenuous exercise without proper warm-up, can cause muscle strains, leading to neck sprains.
  • Repetitive Neck Movements
    Certain occupations or activities requiring repetitive neck motions can lead to overuse injuries, contributing to neck sprains.
  • Awkward Sleeping Position
    Sleeping with the neck at an uncomfortable angle or on an unsupportive pillow can strain neck muscles, potentially causing a sprain.
  • Degenerative Conditions
    Wear and tear on the cervical spine over time, such as from osteoarthritis, can weaken neck structures, making them more prone to sprains.

Symptoms and Signs

Neck sprain manifests through a range of symptoms, which can vary in severity and nature. These may not appear immediately but can develop hours or even a day after the injury.

  • Pain and Discomfort: The most common symptom is pain in the neck area. This pain can range from a mild, persistent ache to a more intense, sharp pain. It might be localised or radiate to other areas like the shoulders or head.
  • Stiffness: People with neck sprains often experience stiffness in their neck muscles. This stiffness can restrict the neck’s range of motion, making it difficult to turn the head or tilt it in various directions.
  • Muscle Tension: Tension and tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles are typical symptoms. These tense muscles can form knots or trigger points, exacerbating discomfort.
  • Headaches: Neck sprains can frequently cause headaches, especially tension-type headaches due to the interconnected muscles in the neck and shoulders.
  • Numbness and Tingling: In some cases, neck sprains may lead to feelings of numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, a condition known as cervical radiculopathy.
  • Pain with Movement: Movement of the neck, such as tilting backwards or rotating, can often worsen the pain.


Diagnosing a neck sprain involves a comprehensive approach to accurately identify the root cause and extent of the injury.

  • Medical History Assessment: The process begins with a thorough review of the patient’s medical history. Information about the onset, duration, and characteristics of the neck pain, as well as any previous injuries or relevant medical conditions, is gathered.
  • Physical Examination: The neck specialist assesses the neck’s range of motion, the muscle strength, and checks for tenderness or swelling. Neurological tests may also be conducted to evaluate nerve function.
  • Imaging Studies: In some cases, imaging tests like X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans are necessary. While a neck sprain itself, involving soft tissues, is not visible on X-rays, these tests can rule out other issues such as bone fractures or arthritis.

Treatment Options

There are several methods available to treat neck sprain, focusing on alleviating pain and promoting healing. The choice of treatment depends on the severity of the sprain and individual patient needs.

Rest and Activity Modification

Initially, the neck specialist may suggest resting the neck and avoiding activities that aggravate the pain. This involves modifying daily tasks to reduce strain on the neck.

Ice and Heat Therapy

In the first 48 hours after injury, applying ice packs can reduce swelling and numb pain. After this period, alternating between ice and heat applications can aid in relief and healing.

Pain Medications

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are often recommended for pain relief and reducing inflammation. Prescription medications may be necessary for more severe pain.

Physical Therapy

Engaging in physical therapy helps in strengthening neck muscles and improving range of motion. The neck specialist can also guide you in maintaining a good posture and help you achieve good ergonomics.

Neck Braces or Collars

In some cases, a neck brace or collar may be used for a short duration to limit movement and provide support, preventing further injury.

Massage and Manual Therapy

These therapies can relax tense muscles, reduce spasms, and improve blood flow in the affected area.

Injections and Interventional Procedures

For severe pain, injections of corticosteroids or local anaesthetics may be considered. Other procedures like facet joint injections or nerve blocks are options for extreme cases.

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Prevention Strategies

Preventing neck sprains involves adopting habits and practices that reduce strain on the neck muscles and ligaments.

  • Proper Pillow and Sleep Position to Protect the Neck - Use a pillow that supports the natural curve of the neck and maintains a neutral cervical spine during sleep. Sleeping on the back is also recommended, to help take the strain off the neck.
  • Ergonomic Workspace to Prevent Neck Strain - Modify your workplace to avoid neck strain. This may include keeping the computer monitor at eye level or using a separate monitor for laptops to prevent the need to angle the head downward.
  • Minimising Texting and Phone Use - Avoid prolonged neck bending while texting or using mobile devices. Keeping the device at eye level and taking frequent breaks can prevent neck strain.
  • Regular Exercise and Stretching - Strengthening and stretching neck muscles with exercises like chin tucks can help maintain neck health and prevent sprains.
  • Maintaining a Supportive Posture - Avoid poor posture, especially the head-and-shoulders-forward posture. Keeping the chin tucked helps maintain a neutral neck position.

Dr Poh Seng Yew



MMED (Ortho)


With over 20 years of experience, Dr Poh Seng Yew is an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in hip, knee, shoulder and elbow surgery, sports medicine, and trauma surgery.

  • Former Director of Sports Service, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital
  • Clinical Hip and Sports Medicine Fellow, Orthopädische Chirurgie München (OCM), Germany
  • Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, FRCSEd (Orthopaedic Surgery)
  • Master of Medicine (Orthopaedic Surgery), National University of Singapore
  • Member, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (MRCSEd)
  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS), National University of Singapore



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Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
38 Irrawaddy Road, #08-62/63
Singapore 329563

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    Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre
    38 Irrawaddy Road, #08-62/63
    Singapore 329563

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

    How Long Does It Take to Recover from a Neck Sprain?

    The recovery time for a neck sprain varies based on its severity and the effectiveness of the treatment approach. Minor neck sprains may improve within days to a couple of weeks with appropriate care such as rest, ice, and heat therapy. More severe sprains might require a longer period, potentially several weeks or months, for full recovery.

    What Is the Difference Between Neck Strain and Sprain?

    Neck strain and sprain are often used interchangeably but refer to different issues. A neck strain involves injury to the muscles or tendons in the neck, whereas a neck sprain concerns the ligaments. Both conditions share similar symptoms, such as pain and restricted movement, but they involve different tissues of the neck.

    What Happens If Neck Sprain Is Left Untreated?

    If a neck sprain is left untreated, it may lead to prolonged discomfort, decreased range of motion, and potentially chronic pain. Untreated sprains might also increase the risk of recurrent injuries. Neck sprain should be addressed promptly by a neck specialist to help prevent these complications.

    How Do I Know If My Neck Sprain Needs Medical Attention?

    Seek medical attention if you experience severe pain, persistent symptoms that do not improve with home care or symptoms that worsen over time. This is also the case if you experience signs like numbness or tingling in the arms or hands, or if the sprain results from severe trauma, such as a car accident. A neck specialist can provide a comprehensive evaluation and recommend the best course of treatment tailored to your specific condition.