A strain is basically a tear of a muscle or a tendon. A sprain means that the structure surrounding the joint is injured, maybe ruptured, partially or completely. It is quite difficult to accurately deliniate a sprain from a strain because
a. The clinical picture is quite similar. Pain, spasm, and tight muscles.
b. There isn’t a definite way of accurately proving the existence of a tear or a rupture because in most cases they are quite small and difficult to visualize (technical-wise and expense-wise).
I guess you are quite familiar with joints and muscles, but you may be mixed up about ligaments and tendons.
A tendon is a structure that connects the muscle to the bone. Like an anchor, it is tightly bound to the bone. The tendon gradually turns into muscle fibers, and it is this site of change of composition where many injuries take place.
A ligament is a soft tissue structure that connects the bones together. It is situated in most of the joints and tends to be larger and thicker around bigger joints. Dense ligaments mean a joint is very able to withstand stress.
Both a sprain and a strain can happen to any body part that has a joint, ligament, tendon, and muscle. So it can happen almost anywhere in the body. Many people after strenuous activity, after competitive exercise of some sort, after a car accident, or after sleeping on the sofa at a friend’s house, may have sore necks. Most of the time it just may mean you have a strain. But sometimes in a major accident, strenuous activity, exercise, or a fall, soreness may be due to a sprain and a strain (or maybe even a fracture in extreme cases).
You will know because of the severe pain. It would prevent you from looking in one or the other direction. The muscles in the back or the side of your neck will be tender, and there will be spasms that even may result in headaches.
In case of these kinds of pain, it is wise for you to get an X-ray. Most of the time there will be nothing out of the norm, but if there is something like a fracture line to the spine, you may need surgery. Immediately! Even if it doesn’t involve a crash or a thump or a fall, it is better to get to a health professional to get expert advice on the condition.
In a case of acute onset of pain, an ice-pack is recommended. You should refrain from doing any exercises or strenuous work even if you have to. As mentioned before, the importance of resting cannot be over-emphasized.
Continuing pain for several days which does not get better with rest calls for attention. In such a case, visiting the doctor’s office is a good idea. Some medications or an injection to the muscles for appropriate reasons may just do the job. If the pain does not stop at the neck, and you have pain, a tingling sensation, or vague pain to the arm, it may be something called ‘radiculopathy’ — a topic I will be discussing in the near future.
Even after a thorough examination and proper treatment, neck pain may take time to get better. The exercises detailed above will in some ways soothe and stretch the muscles and the joints of the neck. It is best to do these exercises regularly with a smaller range at first. As the symptoms improve, do the exercises to a greater extent.
As mentioned above, if there are symptoms that go beyond the neck, do not do these exercises. Stop and seek professional advice.
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