Neck injuries of all kinds are frighteningly common in the modern world. Whether it’s from whiplash from a car accident, repetitive motion strains from sitting at the computer too long, or pulled muscles from incorrectly performed weight lifting, our necks are under a lot of stress at all times. In fact, at any given point, nearly 5% of the population is suffering from some neck pain. Most people will struggle with neck pain at least once in their life.
In this article, we’ll discuss common neck injuries, why they’re dangerous, how to avoid common neck injuries, and how to cope with some of the worst neck injuries that might befall you.
Why Neck Injuries Are Dangerous
Neck pain tends to be a chronic pain for many people. Aside from prolonged pain and inconvenience, the neck is one of the body’s critical highways. The neck contains the spine, which houses countless nerves essential for connecting your brain to your body. The neck also contains critical infrastructure like the esophagus and trachea, needed for eating and breathing.
Critical arteries like the jugular and carotid artery run through the neck, too. Damage anywhere in the neck—whether in its muscles or its vertebrae—is asking for serious trouble. Luckily, for most people neck injuries just result in transient aching pain.
While in this article we’ll be focusing mostly on muscle and nerve based neck pain, its causes, and its solutions, it’s important to remember that there’s an entire handbook of emergency medicine policies reserved solely for certain regions of the neck.
Neck trauma is serious business, so you should treat the day to day management of your neck with the same level of attention to make sure that your neck is in peak condition.
For some, radical neck injuries can sever critical spinal neurons and cause paralysis. There’s little you can do to avoid radical damage to your neck in case of an accident, but most of the more common neck injuries have at least some elements that you can control to protect yourself or ease your pain.
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Common Neck Injuries
The spine and neck are prone to a few common pathologies, including:
- Muscle strain
- Muscle hematoma (bruising)
- Muscle spasm and clenching
- Muscle pull or sprain
- Disk herniation
- Pinched nerve
Each of these pathologies has a different level of consequence and a different treatment strategy that your doctor will suggest, but you’re probably already familiar with most of these neck injuries from personal experience or hearsay.
We’ve all awoken from a night’s sleep with a muscle spasm—a crick in the neck. While it may seem strange to think of this as a neck injury, in fact, it is.
When your neck muscles are locked in a spasm after a night’s sleep, it means that during the night your sleeping posture prevented your neck muscles from either performing flexion or extension, in effect spring loading them for the opposite movement for a similar period once their range of motion is restored, such as when you wake up.
Other neck injuries aren’t as obvious, though. A pulled neck could result from wearing a backpack that has too much weight, trying to do pull ups with bad form, or even something as outlandish as trying to hold onto the leash of a pulling animal.
The neck muscles are nearly constantly activated by any motions involving our arms or our back, and often activated during leg motions, too. If you suffer from what’s known as a herniated disk, certain elements of your intervertebral joint are splayed out beyond where they’re intended to rest due to overuse. This splaying frequently pinches nerves—another common neck injury.
Pinched nerves are common in neck injuries, and tend to cause a lot of pain in the neck, head or arms. Luckily, chiropractic, therapeutic massage or inversion via an inversion table can often help ease pressure on the pinched nerve.
Coping With Neck Injuries
There are some techniques for coping with neck injuries, ranging from gentle manipulation and exercise to surgery. For something mild, like a muscle strain or a bruise, your doctor will probably advise you to do what you’ve already been doing—take a NSAID like Advil. Importantly, you should also stop performing the motion or activity which injured your neck in the first place. If this is the case, you really just need rest and time for it to heal itself.
Obviously, it isn’t your fault if you are in a car accident and get whiplash-based damage to your neck’s muscles or bruising of the spinal bones in your neck. In the case of more serious neck injuries, your recovery should be more closely supervised by a doctor than the mundane.
For the rest, implementing some strategies will help. Implementing strategies to cope with your neck injury means that you might have to make a few changes to your occupational or living arrangements to avoid exacerbating your neck issues.
Heavy load bearing in any capacity—even if you don’t think that the muscles are connected to your neck in any way—is a great way to prolong your recovery time from a neck injury or cause new injuries.
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Recovering From Neck Injuries
Though it isn’t what most people think of as a load-bearing activity, bad posture at the computer is also a leading cause of neck injury because it uses the weight of the head as a constant load for the weakest muscles in the neck to bear, causing them to become tired and achey.
Unlike with muscular hypertrophy in weightlifters, your neck muscles aren’t about to adapt to your poor posture by getting stronger—they’ll just complain to you painfully more frequently and get fatigued. The solution to common neck pains is in your hands, and you have to make sure that you’re doing all that you can to keep your neck well rested.
Telltale signs that your neck isn’t happy include tingling, heat, pain, and a desire to constantly reposition your neck. Listen to your body! When your neck sends you a message, don’t turn to look the other way unless you want to risk a neck injury.