Common Neck Injuries and Preventative Exercises

By Lauren Driscoll OTR/L

What are the Most Common Neck Injuries?

The neck also known as the cervical spine consists of vertebrae C1-C7, nerves, and more than twenty muscles. Neck injuries or cervical spine injuries can be caused by the following:

Nerve related injuries can lead to numbness, tingling, muscle atrophy, and decreased quality of life. Soft tissue injuries (Strains and Sprains) can occur during day to day activities, during sports, and from over use.

The most serious neck injuries are to the cervical spine vertebrae. JOI Rehab

Neck Injury to the Cervical Spine

Most Common Causes of Cervical Spine Injuries

Neck injuries or cervical spine injuries can be caused by the following: soft tissue injuries ,whiplash, and spinal cord injuries. Injuries to the spinal cord are the most severe injury. When individuals suffer from a neck injury they are at risk to further damage. Neck injuries can cause deficits in range of motion including but not limited to: hyper mobility, forward head posture, loss of strength, poor posture, and potential numbness or tingling down the upper extremity.

Common Symptoms of a Neck Injury

It is important to be aware of common symptoms of neck pain in order to follow up with a doctor before the condition worsens. Common symptoms include headaches, muscle spasms, numbness, pain and tenderness upon touch of the anterior & posterior neck, stiffness, swelling, and bruising around the neck.

Soft Tissue Injuries of the Neck

If an individual has ever woken up and felt a “kink” in their neck, they have most likely strained the muscles. Strains can be caused by sports or manual labor activities, whereas sprains are injuries caused to ligaments that give support and stability to the joints.


Whiplash occurs when the neck or head is thrown into hyperextension and hyperflexion. This normally occurs during motor vehicle accidents, trauma, falls, etc. Symptoms of whiplash can appear after 1-2 days following an accident. Symptoms include numbness and tingling, pain, tenderness, and headaches.

Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash Injuries

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) are injuries that put stress on the spinal cord. Depending on the level of injury determines what function the individual may have. C1,C2,C3 injuries can be life threatening. Individuals at this level are paralyzed and may need a respirator and full time care. Injuries from C4-C8 have some function depending on the damaged nerve. Brachial plexus injuries C5-C8 can be caused by an avulsion, overstretched nerve, and or a rupture.

Conservative Treatment for a Neck Injury

Depending on the individual’s condition, they may be able to receive conservative treatment such as physical therapy. If the individual’s condition is too severe they may need surgical intervention. Physical therapy for a neck injury will consist of being evaluated and assessed by a certified physical therapist. In addition to,  receiving an education on the anatomy and common causes for the condition. The therapist will then collaborate with you to develop an individualized treatment plan.

Conservative therapy with a physical therapist can reduce the risk of neck injury. JOI Rehab

Neck Exercises with a Physical Therapist

4 Common Neck Exercises to Help Prevent Injury

Conservative treatment through the application of neck exercises is a great way to take preventative measures to decrease the likelihood of neck injuries. While you can not totally avoid neck injuries by doing these exercises, they can be effective in strengthening the muscles of the neck and reducing the risk of a neck injury occurring. The following are conservative treatment exercises for neck pain:

1. Upper Trapezius Stretch

Bring the left ear to the left shoulder and hold for 10-15 seconds. Then,
repeat on the right side.

2. Levator Scapula Stretch

Rotate your head to the left about 45 degrees and then bring your chin to
your chest. Hold for 10-15 seconds and repeat on the right side.

3. Chin Tucks

While laying down, gently tuck your chin down towards your chest and
hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times.

4. Isometric Strengthening

Place your hand on your forehead and push against the resistance of
your own hand. Hold for 5-8 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.

Written by: Lauren Driscoll OTR/L

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