Neck muscle injuries

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Neck muscle injuries frequently result from sudden extension or flexion of the neck or whiplash. The soft tissue injury is to intervertebral joints, discs and ligaments, cervical muscles and nerve roots. Neck pain may be immediate or delayed. Symptoms are neck stiffness, headache, dizziness, abnormal sensations, burning, prickling, or shoulder pain, back pain or broken ribs. Cognitive, somatic or psychological distress, memory loss, concentration impairment, nervousness, irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue or depression may occur.


Neck muscle injuries are complicated because neck muscles cover nerves originating at the seven cervical vertebrae. If neck muscles spasm and constrict nerves to the brain, dizziness, allergies and headaches result. Neck muscles cover cervical nerves to all your vital organs.

Neck muscles flex, tilt and rotate the head, raise the sternum during breathing, perform all functions of the mouth, open and close the mandible, or lower jaw, and elevate the hyoid bone for swallowing. The upper cervical spine consists of the Atlas, (C1) and the Axis, (C2) at the top of the neck. Vital nerves in this area control a variety of body functions.

Sternocleidomastoid Muscle

The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) muscle extends vertically up the side of the neck. The SCM muscle is attached under the back of the ear and to the middle of the chest where the clavical attaches to the sternum. The sternocleidomastoid muscle tilts and rotates the head to the opposite side of the body. Acting with other muscles it flexes the neck and raises the sternum during breathing.

Injury to the SCM muscle produces headaches, facial palsy, sinus trouble, allergies, fatigue, crossed eyes or dizziness. Neck muscle injuries to the top of the neck or to the muscles from the first two cervical vertebrae cause difficulty swallowing and may damage vocal cords or cause temporary difficulty speaking.


The upper part of the trapezius muscle is prone to whiplash injuries. The middle part of the trapezius muscle is aggravated by slouching. The lower part of the trapezius is strained by leaning forward for long periods of time. Chronic trapezius muscle pain is called myalgia and is relieved by exercises. Extra weight strains the neck muscles and affects posture.

Splenius and Multifidi

The Splenius muscles attach to the neck and the head. They are strained by holding the neck in a forward position for prolonged periods. These muscles are aggravated by lack of sleep and temperature.

Semispinalis and Multifidi are aggravated by reading, writing, driving and other activities that involve poor neck posture. Massage, heat and neck exercises usually soothe these muscles.


Back spasms and strains require rest, ice on the affected area and a medical evaluation. After the first 24 hours, heat should be applied to the affected area.

Treatment for neck muscle injuries may be pain medication, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and a cervical collar for two to three weeks. Range of motion exercises, physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment may be necessary. Supplemental heat application may relieve muscle tension.

The chiropractor applies muscle stimulation and ultrasound to stretch or relax tense muscles. The chiropractor recommends exercises to improve the functioning of the neck muscles. Recovery may take years. Prolonged use of muscle relaxants is not recommended because muscle relaxants weaken normal muscle tension necessary to support and move the head.


Biofeedback from a computer with electromagnetic pads on the head, shoulders, chest and extremities monitors muscle tension, body temperature, pulse and electrocardio output. Turning out lights reduces muscle tension. Progressive relaxation technique is systematically tensing and relaxing groups of muscles to improve functioning. Deep breathing from the diaphragm relaxes the shoulders. Imagery relaxation with prehypnotic tapes deeply relaxes muscles.

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