Sports Rehabilitation and neck strain are common to such sports as soccer, football, wrestling and basketball. The well known term whiplash is applicable in this type of injury because the neck muscles are strained because the force of resistance is stronger than the muscle itself.
Neck or cervical strain is painful and debilitating due to the muscle spasms and limited neck motion. Since most athletes depend on full mobility of the neck and head a cervical strain can sideline an athlete for weeks.
Trying to play through the neck strain may prolong the healing process.The neck or cervical spine is very susceptible to injury due to the capability of extensive motion and is less stable than most other body parts. Neck strains result by the indirect trauma of the head when it is suddenly forced backwards (hyperextension) or forward (hyperflexion). Again the term whiplash comes into play.
Cervical strains are classified as mild (1st degree) where there is slight stretching of muscle tissue; moderate (2nd degree) where there is actual tearing of muscle fibers and severe (3rd degree) where a complete tear occurs. This usually happens where the muscle/tendon inserts into the bone.
Diagnosis of cervical strain is made by x-rays to determine any deviation of the spine and MRI to rule out bone or disc injuries. In this article we will go into causes, symptoms, sports rehabilitation and prevention of cervical strain.
Here are some examples of this type of injury related to sports (1) in football where there is head to head contact especially if the players size head are unequal (2) in soccer where the head is used as an implement to move the ball (3) in baseball when a player slides into a base and the head is abruptly stopped by the opponent resulting in loss of momentum and (4) in basketball when a player jumps and falls onto the hardwood flooring.
Cervical strain also can be seen in automobile accidents, poor posture working on a computer or using a cell phone and restless sleep. An athlete in a sports rehabilitation program gets well educated in the causes of neck strain.
The primary symptoms of this type of injury are pain and stiffness of the cervical spine. When the athlete initially experiences acute pain the first complaint is a jammed neck sensation. When the injury first occurs pain usually subsides and the athlete feels good enough to return to activity.
Later inflammation settles in, thus pain and stiffness increases, motion is lost, increased sensitivity noted and neck feels extremely weak. There will be neck spasms present and easily palpable. Other symptoms to look for is referred pain behind the ear (occipital region) and shoulder secondary to the muscle tension.
If there is trauma to a nerve root the signs are referred pain down the arm coinciding with numbness. Again being in a sports rehabilitation program educates you on the exact symptoms.
Acute neck sprains the athlete should follow the R.I.C.E rules by application of ice several times per day for 15-20 minutes, rest the neck muscles by using a soft cervical collar. So if the athlete needs to be active whether at work or school the soft collar acts as a great support to decrease the work load on injured muscles. Bed rest on a pillow is very helpful. Anytime the athlete is sitting, standing or walking the neck muscles contract to keep the head upright.
Sports rehabilitation can start once the acute pain subsides. Physical therapy starts with mild active assistive range of motion exercises. Active assistive is the proper method to give the guidance in movement and support. Modalities that are commonly used are ultra sound, electrical stimulation and intermittent cervical traction. Ultra sound soothes and heals the sensitive muscles, electrical stimulation reduces muscle spasms and decreases tenderness and intermittent cervical traction slowly increases mobility of the cervical spine. Many times sports rehabilitation will include cold laser to accelerate healing and soft tissue mobilization to relax the neck musculature.
The physical therapist will instruct the athlete on proper strengthening techniques utilizing resistive bands and manual resistance. The athlete can start functional sports specific exercises when there is complete relief of pain, normal range of motion and full strength in the neck region.
Once the athlete can perform full intensity functional drills without cervical pain then the athlete is ready to return to his or her sport. The athlete should be officially discharged from the sports rehabilitation program with a written home exercise program to follow on a daily basis. If the athlete should have any questions the sports rehabilitation specialist should be consulted.