Recovering From a Cervical Injury

While we have all probably suffered from a stiff neck from time to time, identifying the characteristics of a cervical injury can help expedite the healing process. In order to properly diagnose a cervical injury we have to understand what one is. A cervical injury is basically damage to what is considered white matter or myelinated fiber tracks that transmit and receive sensory and motor signals to and from our brains. This damage can be caused by a number of reasons: an accident, sports injury, or just overexertion all of which can cause a strain or sprain in the area. Any type of exercise or rehabilitation program should be done so after consulting your physician or physical therapist so a plan can be tailored to your injury and needs.

Causes of Cervical Injury

Recovering Cervical Injury

We are always discovering different ways to injure ourselves, whether it’s our own fault or through the actions of somebody else. Something as simple as being rear-ended in a car accident or a sports injury, such as from football or hockey, can lead to an injury in or around our head and neck area. Car accidents can lead to whiplash injuries which can be quite painful. An article for spine-health.com states that whiplash injuries can include joint dysfunction, where one of the joints in the spine or limbs lose resiliency and therefore possibly reducing range of motion and causing pain, and disc herniation, which is an injury to the disc between vertebrae causing tears and causing the disc to press on and irritate spinal cord nerves. Most sports cervical injuries are probably acute strains or sprains of the muscles in the neck as well as contusions to surrounding soft tissue according to an article written by Gerard Malanga, M.D. and Sherwin Ho, M.D. for emedicine.medscape.com. The article identifies a strain as an overstretched muscle such as the trapezius, rhomboid, and the scalenes, just to name a few, while a sprain is an injury to a ligament. Other causes of cervical injuries are spinal cord compression (stenosis), rheumatoid arthritis, or surgery. While some of these injuries can be minor, some can be quite serious and affect our everyday mobility and quality of life. Since our cervical area is quite important to us it is important to properly exercise and rehabilitate even the smallest of cervical injuries.

Working out the Kinks: Cervical Rehab

After your doctor has diagnosed your injury to the cervical area, an exercise and rehab program will probably be prescribed for you. Your doctor and physical therapist will work with you to establish a plan that will get you on the road to recovery. The first step will probably be rest along with immobilizing the neck area. The most common way to immobilize the neck area is using a cervical collar such as the AT Surgical Unisex Cervical Collar or the BodySport Cervical Collar. Both are latex free and are contoured for comfort and provides support while minimizing cervical movement. The BodySport Cervical Traction Collar takes the idea of a cervical collar one step further by introducing adjustable traction to gently stretch and relax muscles for pain relief. For those that need a little bit more support than a soft collar, the Core Cervical Collar with Vinyl Strap provides additional stabilization when necessary and the vinyl strap provides increased circulation and warmth. For more rigid cervical support, Cybertech manufactures the Cyberspine Cervical Orthosis or the Cybertech Cervical Thoracic Orthosis to provide noninvasive restriction and cervical immobilization. For cervical support in bed, the Core Air-Core Adjustable Cervical Support Pillow gently cradles the head and supports the neck. For cervical support while resting, the BodySport Cervical Roll Pillow or the BodySport Cervical Support Pillow could be what the doctor ordered. Your physical therapist may evaluate you by asking you questions about your neck injury and the University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that some of the questions may be:

  • How long have you had neck pain?
  • How long have you had neck pain?
  • How does your pain affect your daily activities?
  • Do you have headaches?
  • Do you have any numbness or tingling?

During the acute phase of rehabilitation for a cervical sprain or strain, emedicine.medscape.com identifies several therapeutic activities to help in the recovery process. Starting with the first step of a period of rest and the introduction of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), physical therapy exercises such as range of motion and stabilization, not to mention isometric muscle strengthening, will aid in the healing and recovery of your injuries. An instrument to help with range of motion exercises is the CROM-Cervical Range of Motion Instrument which eliminates positioning, zeroing and tracking errors common with standalone inclinometers. For athletes with no neurological history, emedicine.medscape.com recommends using ice packs 15-20 minutes every 1-2 hours or have an ice massage for 5-10 minutes every 1-2 hours for the early management of these injuries. Icing decreases muscle spasms and pain and promotes vasoconstriction. It’s important to use this cryotherapy for the recommended amount of time in order to affect deep tissue responsiveness. The Core Pressure Point Dual Comfort Cold Therapy Pack is designed to fit pressure points at the base of the skull and relieve pain. Another option is to use products such as the Core Soft Comfort CorPak Hot and Cold Therapy TriSectional Pack or the Core Dual Comfort CorPak Hot and Cold Therapy TriSectional Therapy Pack which can deliver cryotherapy relief and also for the next step in the process, heat. After icing, the introduction of heat can open blood vessels to allow for increased blood flow to the injured area. The use of the Battle Creek Good Two Go Microwave Moist Cervical and Pelvic Heat Therapy Pad provides portable moist heat therapy that can be easily heated up in the microwave. Patterson Medical Magic Heat Pads and the Cara King Size Deluxe Slide Switch Heating Pad can both be used to deliver healing heat to the affected area, while the Cardinal Health Kwik Heat Instant Hot Pack is a very simple way to apply heat to a cervical injury. Another tool that is available to your physical therapist is ultrasound therapy. This type of therapy works by creating sound waves that pass through the sore area and vibrating the molecules creating friction and heat. This heating affect delivers a new supply of nutrient and oxygen-rich blood to the targeted area that can be over a couple of inches below your skin. The ReliaMed Ultrasound Unit with AC Adapter is a great treatment for pain relief and muscles spasms that can be associated with cervical injuries. As with any rehabilitation program it is important to be diligent and stick with the plan to expedite healing and if anything should cause discomfort or increased pain your doctor should be notified immediately.

 

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