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How do I Treat a Strained Neck?

A strained neck occurs when the muscles in the neck are stretched beyond their means, and tearing of the muscle fibers leads to pain, bruising, or swelling. Such an injury is common during physical activity, but it also may occur if the neck moves in a manner not natural to its usual movement. A strained neck can occur after an accident or fall, or even during normal activities throughout the day. To treat a strained neck, the RICE treatment — Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation — should be used immediately after the injury occurs, and subsequent steps should be taken to re-strengthen the muscle and regain mobility.

Most strained neck injuries will heal naturally if given enough time. Rest is an important step in treating such an injury, though there are other actions to be taken to quicken the healing process. Icing the injury soon after it occurs can keep swelling down, thereby dulling some of the pain. Gently massaging the injury might help to loosen the muscles, though it is important to avoid massaging too deeply, as re-injury may occur. Heating the injury after a few days can help dull the pain as well, though the injury should only be heated for a few minutes at a time.

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More severe strained neck injuries may require more attention. If the tearing of the muscle is complete — that is, two ends of the muscle completely break from each other — the injury may require surgery to fix. The muscle fibers will be re-attached manually, and the recovery time for such an injury will be much greater. Such injuries are far less common than simple strains, but if bruising and swelling occur, and the muscle can be felt bunched up at one end, one should consult a doctor immediately to determine the best course of action.

Sometimes a strained neck can occur as a result of poor posture during work or sleep. As muscles tire, they tend to tighten, and if those muscles tighten beyond their normal means, a strain may result. Analyzing one's sleeping habits as well as one's posture while sitting or standing for long periods of time is the first step in preventing a strained neck from occurring in the future. At work, an ergonomic chair can help alleviate some of the pressure often placed on the neck as the eyes focus on a computer screen, and the lumbar spine support will keep the spine in proper alignment, avoiding undue pressure on neck muscles. Changing one's sleep position may avoid placing the neck in an awkward position for hours on end.

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