What to look out for with a neck injury

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Barbell - Neck Injury

After dropping a 50kg barbell on my neck the other day (and yes it was unintentional but avoidable!) I thought a quick blog post about neck injuries might be in order!

For me it was more of a bruised ego as well as a bruised neck – but heres what to look out for with a neck injury.

Numbness, tingling, loss of movement

Now this is the one we’re worried about because it indicates some form of nerve damage. Regardless of the extent of these symptoms these warrant seeking IMMEDIATE medical attention. And yes, severe nerve damage is going to be obvious. But even if you start to experience these symptoms days or even weeks later take it just as seriously.

The sooner you receive treatment the better the prognosis – but if you have symptoms don’t panic. Trauma to the neck will result in bruising and swelling which may impinge nerve roots causing these symptoms, but can resolve fully over time.

Persistent pain

There are two categories here – the stubborn individual who is putting up with significant pain and really should have sought medical attention immediately, and the persistent pain I’m talking about.

This second category is mild to moderate (read manageable) pain but is persistent over the period of a few weeks. No reduction in pain or increase in pain, may reduce with painkillers but returns in the same location at the same intensity. This can be an indication of a fracture, so again seek medical attention and request an x-ray.

Soft tissue, like muscles and ligaments, have fairly good blood supply in the neck and should begin to heal over the course of days, leading to a steady reduction in symptoms as weeks progress.

Persistent pain = something not healing, healing slowly or increased sensitisation. Get it looked at!

Dizziness, nausea, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath

Any of these symptoms after neck injury can indicate complications with nerve fibres and/or vascular supply through the neck. Again these may come on over a period of time, so if you have sustained a neck injury in the previous weeks don’t just dismiss these symptoms.

Pain with movement

Now its quite likely that if you’ve had a neck injury then its gonna hurt when you move your neck, right? But what we are talking about is after 48hrs are there specific movements that aggravate the neck, that cause a peak of pain? More importantly does movement bring on pain with any of the above symptoms? In which case, again, seek medical attention. Once the initial swelling and shock starts to subside you should have a clearer picture of what is injured – if you are at all suspicious about the symptoms then get yourself checked out.

Symptoms under load

What we mean by this is if you cough, sneeze, hold your breath and bear down do you get symptoms? These actions cause compression of the spine, in particular the discs, and we use compression as a provocative test for disc and joint injuries. Swelling around a disc/joint may also generate a positive responsive when you do this, but those symptoms should reduce over the course of a few days. Persistent symptoms can point to damage to the disc and/or joint.

I don’t have any of those symptoms, what can I do to help recover quicker?

Follow our Traffic Light System to continue training safely whilst you have an injury

  • Pain free movement – the body is designed to move. All of the systems in the body, vascular, lymphatic, endocrine etc, are optimised to work under regular movement. Pain free movement assists the movement of fluid around the injury, lubricating and delivering important resources to the area for healing. Pain free is very important – push it too far and the body will push back. You’ve had a recent trauma and your nervous system will be sensitised; you won’t be able to tolerate pain or stretch as much as usual and may trigger new protective spasm, so take it easy
  • Ice/heat – As a general rule ice for the the first 48hrs and heat thereafter. But….use common sense! Ice is designed to reduce blood flow and mediate swelling, it closes blood vessels and prevents fluid exchange. If you are uncertain then using an alternating heat/ice protocol of 10mins each will help promote good fluid exchange in the area.
  • Painkillers – Be careful and follow the manufacturer’s instructions, but using analgesics and anti-inflammatories in tandem can be helpful i.e. paracetamol and ibuprofen. Do not exceed the dosage or recommended period of time for usage. If you find that normal over the counter medications are not helping then seek medical attention.
  • Sports Massage/Sports Therapy – Book an appointment with a professional who can do a full assessment, provide thorough treatment and a full rehab protocol. Manual therapy will help improve recovery, adjust muscle tone and assist joint mobility.
Follow Vicki:

Sports Massage Therapist

Vicki Marsh MSc BA (hons) studied at Oxford University before training as a Sports Massage Therapist. With over 12 years experience she specialises in chronic pain & complex cases as well as coaching Crossfit & Weightlifters. She runs specialist workshops, creates online courses and has spoken at events such as COPA on how to grow a successful business.

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