Better Rehabilitation, Faster Recovery

Understanding Neck Strain & How to Treat It

What is a Neck Strain?

A strain is a tear of a muscle or tendon. Your neck is surrounded by small muscles, that run close to the vertabrae, and larger muscles, that make up the visible muscles of the neck.

How does it occur?

Neck strains most often from an akward position during sleep or poor posture while working at a computer. They can also occur when the head and neck are forcibly moved, such as in a whiplash injury or in contact sports.

What are the symptoms?

You have pain in your neck. When the neck muscles go into spasm you feel hard, tight muscles in your neck that are very tender to the touch. You have pain when you move your head to either side or when you try to move your head up or down. If you have symptoms past the shoulder, immediately see a doctor.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your neck. Your neck muscles will be tender and tight. You may have pain over the bones in your neck. Your healthcare provider may order X-rays to make sure the vertebrae are not injuried.

How is it treated?

  • Right after the injury you should place an ice pack on your neck for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 or 4 hours for 2 to 3 days or until the pain goes away.
  • Doing simple exercises regularly can help you relieve pain and prevent future strains. Here are stretches that you can do in 10 minutes at home.
  • If you feel additional pain, do not forcibly continue with the exercises.
  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication and a neck collar to support your neck and prevent further injury.
  • If you still have neck pain several days after the injury and after using ice, your healthcare provider may recommend using moist-heat pad or make your own by soaking towels in hot water. Put moist heat on your neck for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 or 4 hours until the pain goes away. You may find that it helps to alternate putting heat and ice on your neck.

When can I return to my sport or activity? Return to your sport or activity will be determined by how soon your neck recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury occurred. See if you can do the following without any pain:
  • Turn your head fully to look over both shoulders.
  • Extend your head backward as far as possible.
  • Flex your neck forward until your chin touches your chest.
How can I prevent neck strain?

Neck strain is best prevented by having strong and supple neck muscles. If you have a job that requires you to be in one position all day (for example, work at a computer all day), it is very important to take breaks and relax your neck muscles.

In many cases an injury to the neck occurs during an accident that is not preventable.

Neck Strain Rehabilitation Exercises

Time to Completion: 10 minutes. You can do these exercises right away.

Exercise 1: Active Neck Rotation - Repeat 10 times

Sit in a chair and keep your neck, shoulders and trunk straight.


First, turn your head slowly to the right. Move it gently to the point of pain.


Move it back to the forward position and repeat on the left.

Hold for 1 second

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