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Pain Management Health Center

Neck Injuries in Sports: What You Should Know

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When a Pain in the Neck Is More Than Just a Pain

Minor neck pain is annoying, but it should eventually get better on its own or with treatment.

A serious neck injury, on the other hand, is more than just a pain in the neck. If your spinal cord is damaged, you can be paralyzed for life.

Some signs of a serious neck injury:

  • Pain that doesn't go away or is severe
  • Shooting pain in your arms or legs
  • Numbness, weakness, or tingling in your arms or legs
  • Trouble controlling your bladder or bowels

If you have taken a hard hit or fallen, seek emergency medical help right away. An X-ray, MRI, or CT scan can pinpoint the cause of the problem in the nerves, bones, and tissues of your neck.

Relief for Neck Pain

Popping a couple of over-the-counter pain relievers -- like aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol), or ibuprofen (Motrin) -- might be enough to relieve mild neck pain. But avoid aspirin in children under the age of 19. If pain relievers don't do the trick, talk to your doctor. They will want to check you over. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medicine or muscle relaxant. Corticosteroid injections may also help ease neck pain and swelling.

Another way to reduce swelling is to put an ice pack on the painful area of your neck for about 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day during the first couple of days after the neck injury. Place a towel or cloth between the ice pack and your skin. After a few days you can switch to a heating pad if it feels good on your neck.

When your neck starts to feel better, ask your doctor about some easy stretches. Keeping your neck stretched and limber may increase your range of motion.  Gently bend your neck to one side and then the other. Hold it for about 30 seconds on each side.

Your health care provider might recommend other stretching options, like traction -- using weights and pulleys to stretch your neck. Don't forget to also ask about strengthening exercises to build up the muscles that support your neck.

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