Dealing Pulled Neck Muscle That Restricts Head Movement

A pulled or strained neck muscle can be incredibly painful and debilitating. When the neck muscles are injured, even simple actions like turning your head can be agonizing. If you have strained a neck muscle and are unable to turn your head properly, here are some tips for managing the injury and making a full recovery.

Causes of Pulled Neck Muscles

The neck contains many small muscles that connect the head to the spine and allow for motion. These muscles can be strained due to trauma or injury directly to the neck, but also from poor posture, muscle tension, and activities that require repetitive neck motions like swimming or playing sports. Straining a neck muscle leads to inflammation, muscle spasms, and severe stiffness that restricts mobility.

Symptoms of a Pulled Neck Muscle

  • Sharp pain in the neck when trying to turn the head that may radiate down the shoulders and back
  • Muscle tightness and stiffness in the neck
  • Tenderness, swelling, or muscle spasms in the neck
  • Headache
  • Dizziness

Treatment and Rehab for a Pulled Neck Muscle

The initial treatment for a strained neck muscle will focus on reducing pain and inflammation. Use an ice pack on the injured area for 15-20 minutes several times per day. Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can also help mitigate swelling and discomfort. A doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers as well to alleviate painful spasms.

Limit motions that trigger pain in the early stages when the muscle is at its most inflamed. This may require wearing a soft neck brace. Avoid any jerking head movements during this time.

Applying heat through hot packs or warm showers can promote blood flow and begin loosening the injured muscles after the first 48 hours. Gentle massage and over-the-counter topical pain relievers may provide further relief.

Once severe pain and inflammation subside, rehabilitation exercises should commence to regain mobility and strength. These may include:

  • Basic neck stretches and rotations to restore range of motion
  • Chin tucks to stabilize the neck muscles
  • Isometric exercises like pressing the hand against the forehead to apply pressure without movement
  • Upper back exercises like shoulder rolls and rows to strengthen supporting muscles

A physical therapist can provide guidance on the appropriate exercises and stretches for your particular strain. Work your way up to these rehabilitation exercises slowly to avoid reinjury. Proper recovery can take several weeks depending on the severity of the original muscle strain.

Preventing Future Neck Muscle Strains

To avoid dealing with a restricted, painful neck again, implement these prevention strategies:

  • Maintain good posture when sitting and standing
  • Be mindful of ergonomics when working at a computer
  • Stretch the neck regularly before and after exercise
  • Build strength in the neck and upper back muscles with targeted exercises
  • Avoid hunching the neck forward for prolonged periods
  • Consider physical therapy if chronic tightness exists

A sudden sharp pain when turning the head likely signifies a pulled neck muscle. While uncomfortable, this common injury usually resolves within a few weeks with proper rest, rehabilitation exercises, and time. See a doctor if pain persists beyond that timeframe. With some patience and care, you’ll be moving your head freely once again.