How Long Does a Neck Muscle Strain Last?

Neck muscle strains, also known as neck sprains, are a common injury that can cause mild to severe pain in the neck area. They occur when the muscles and ligaments in the neck are suddenly stretched beyond their limits, often due to poor posture or an awkward movement. Fortunately, most neck muscle strains heal within a few weeks with proper care.

Causes

There are several ways you can strain the muscles in your neck, including:

Symptoms

Symptoms of a neck muscle strain may include:

  • Pain or soreness on one or both sides of the neck
  • Stiffness and reduced range of motion in the neck
  • Muscle spasms or tightness in the neck and shoulders
  • Headache that originates from the neck area
  • Swelling or bruising over the affected muscles

The pain typically starts soon after the injury occurs and may worsen with movement. Over-the-counter pain medication and applying ice can help relieve discomfort.

Healing Time

The healing time for a neck muscle strain depends on factors like the severity of the injury, your age, and how well you care for it. Here’s a general timeline:

Mild strains:

  • Heal within 2-4 weeks with proper rest, ice, over-the-counter pain medication and gentle stretches.

Moderate strains:

  • Take 4-8 weeks to heal. Your doctor may recommend prescription muscle relaxers. Physical therapy can help restore strength and range of motion.

Severe strains:

  • Can take 8-12 weeks or longer to heal. You may need to wear a soft neck brace to immobilize the area in addition to medication, therapy and rest.

Recovering fully from a significant neck strain can take up to several months. Even after the pain subsides, you’ll need to rebuild strength and flexibility through targeted exercises. Don’t rush back into strenuous activity too quickly after the injury.

When to See a Doctor

See your doctor if your neck pain is severe, doesn’t improve within a few days, or you experience numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms or hands. These can be signs of a pinched nerve or more serious injury. Most neck strains heal well with conservative treatment, but your doctor can rule out any underlying conditions and provide prescription medication if needed.

Prevention

To help avoid neck muscle strains, build strength in your neck through exercises that target the surrounding muscles. Maintain proper posture when sitting and standing. Limit repetitive stress to the neck. And be careful when lifting heavy items, turning your head forcefully or playing contact sports. Warm up before physical activity and don’t overdo it. With some minor adjustments, you can keep your neck muscles healthy and injury-free.