Neck pain after lifting

If you experience neck pain when lifting weights, your body is telling you that something is wrong. Lifting should not be painful, so you need to make some changes to your lifting routine. If you still experience pain after adjusting your technique, it is time to seek medical treatment.

Maintain a Balanced Posture

Poor posture can lead to neck pain when lifting weights. Lengthen your spine, so you stand up straight. Then let your shoulder blades slide down while your chest moves forward. Do this without arching your back. Your head should be straight, and your hips need to be parallel to the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body when lifting.

Relax Your Neck and Jaw

Tension in your neck and jaw can lead to neck pain when lifting weights. You might think it’s impossible to keep your neck and jaw relaxed when lifting heavy weights, but it is actually easy. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth when lifting. This will cause your neck and jaw to relax, so you are less likely to experience tension-related pain. Breathing can also help you stay relaxed. Take a breath before lifting the weight. Then exhale when lifting and breath back in when lowering the weight.

Build up Your Weak Side

One side of your body is likely stronger than the other. If you force your weaker side to keep up, you can injure yourself, and that can hurt your neck. For example, if your right side can easily handle 80 pounds, and your left side can only handle 50, lifting 80 pounds on both sides will cause trauma. Modify your lifting routine to accommodate your weaker side. Build it up so that it becomes as strong as the other side of your body. This builds symmetry and will help you avoid neck pain when lifting weights.

Stay in Control

If you don’t have control of the weights, you are likely to strain your neck. If this happens, you might need to take several days or even weeks off to rest your neck. Lift weights in slow and controlled motion. If this is not possible, the weights are too heavy. Rack those weights and pick some up that are not as heavy. If you can control the weights, you will put less pressure on your neck.

Rest

You can also hurt your neck by lifting weights too often. While some exercise is good on a daily basis, you should not lift weights two days in a row. Rest the following day, and then you can lift again. This should reduce the amount of pain you feel when lifting.

Stay Pain-free When Lifting

If you experience neck pain when lifting, you could end up with a serious injury. Your body is telling you that it’s under stress, so change your routine. These techniques should help you avoid pain. However, if you are still in pain, visit the injury doctor. You need an evaluation to determine if something is wrong.

If you experience neck pain when lifting weights, your body is telling you that something is wrong. Lifting should not be painful, so you need to make some changes to your lifting routine. If you still experience pain after adjusting your technique, it is time to seek medical treatment.

Maintain a Balanced Posture

Poor posture can lead to neck pain when lifting weights. Lengthen your spine, so you stand up straight. Then let your shoulder blades slide down while your chest moves forward. Do this without arching your back. Your head should be straight, and your hips need to be parallel to the floor. Keep your elbows close to your body when lifting.

Relax Your Neck and Jaw

Tension in your neck and jaw can lead to neck pain when lifting weights. You might think it’s impossible to keep your neck and jaw relaxed when lifting heavy weights, but it is actually easy. Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth when lifting. This will cause your neck and jaw to relax, so you are less likely to experience tension-related pain. Breathing can also help you stay relaxed. Take a breath before lifting the weight. Then exhale when lifting and breath back in when lowering the weight.

Build up Your Weak Side

One side of your body is likely stronger than the other. If you force your weaker side to keep up, you can injure yourself, and that can hurt your neck. For example, if your right side can easily handle 80 pounds, and your left side can only handle 50, lifting 80 pounds on both sides will cause trauma. Modify your lifting routine to accommodate your weaker side. Build it up so that it becomes as strong as the other side of your body. This builds symmetry and will help you avoid neck pain when lifting weights.

Stay in Control

If you don’t have control of the weights, you are likely to strain your neck. If this happens, you might need to take several days or even weeks off to rest your neck. Lift weights in slow and controlled motion. If this is not possible, the weights are too heavy. Rack those weights and pick some up that are not as heavy. If you can control the weights, you will put less pressure on your neck.

Rest

You can also hurt your neck by lifting weights too often. While some exercise is good on a daily basis, you should not lift weights two days in a row. Rest the following day, and then you can lift again. This should reduce the amount of pain you feel when lifting.

Stay Pain-free When Lifting

If you experience neck pain when lifting, you could end up with a serious injury. Your body is telling you that it’s under stress, so change your routine. These techniques should help you avoid pain. However, if you are still in pain, visit the neck injury doctor. You need an evaluation to determine if something is wrong.

Contents

Lifting Properly to Avoid Neck Pain

People often think of their lower backs as being at risk from lifting, but your neck is almost as vulnerable. If you do a lot of lifting at work or even if you only occasionally pick up heavy objects at home, you need to know the proper lifting techniques to avoid neck pain.

Avoiding Neck Pain: The Right Way to Lift

“When lifting, you should always keep the object close to your body to avoid straining both neck and back muscles. When lifting from the ground, bend down from your hips and knees. Try to get close to the object,” advises Barbara B. Boucher, a physical therapist and director of rehabilitation and sports medicine at the New England Musculoskeletal Institute, University of Connecticut Health Center.

Yvonne Johnson, a physical therapist and director of physical therapy at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing in New York City, offers these additional tips to avoid a stiff neck:

  • Lighten the load or divide it up by lifting it in phases, if possible.
  • Keep your neck in a neutral position during the lift.
  • Keep the object close to your center of gravity. In most people, this is deep in the abdomen, a few inches below the navel, but may vary depending on your body type.
  • Always do the lifting with the big muscles of your hips and legs.

More lifting tips to remember:

  • Make sure you have a firm grip on the object.
  • Keep your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Avoid twisting during lifting. If you must pivot, pivot only with your feet, not your shoulders.
  • If an object is too heavy, ask for help!

Avoiding Neck Pain: Maintaining Your “Curves”

Your neck is designed to support you in a natural position. It has a gentle curvature that should be maintained when you are lifting. Putting stress on your neck when it is out of position, such as being bent too far forward or sideways, can cause damage and neck pain. The spine will be in correct curvature when your ears are in line with your shoulders, and your shoulders are in line with your hips.

If your job demands heavy lifting, you can prevent a sore neck by warming up before work, just like an athlete warms up before their sport. You can also cause neck pain by lifting objects the wrong way during everyday activities. Two common causes of neck pain are “shopper’s tilt” and “traveler’s droop.”

Shopper’s tilt is caused by carrying items against one side of your body for a long period of time. You can avoid neck pain from shopping by following the same rules as recommended for lifting. Keep the weight evenly distributed — between two shopping bags — and close to your body.

If you have ever carried a heavy suitcase at the airport and felt neck pain later, you have experience traveler’s droop. Consider using a backpack, worn properly in the middle of the upper back, or invest in a suitcase on wheels.

One of the best ways to prevent neck pain and a sore neck is to think before you lift. You can get neck pain from working with heavy objects or from lugging your suitcase around the airport. Remember to maintain your curves, lift with your legs and hips, and keep the weight close to your center of gravity to prevent neck pain from lifting.

How to Treat a Pulled Neck Muscle

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A strain is a pulled muscle, and the neck is among the worst places to suffer one. A pulled neck muscle can occur while you’re training or during a game. Football players are among the most susceptible, from an opponent pulling on their face mask or attempting to shove them while and they turn to avoid it.

Regardless of how you suffer the injury, the goal is to treat it as soon as possible. Here are some options if you have to deal with a pulled neck muscle. Note: None of this advice should replace the recommendations of your personal physician. If you feel you need a doctor, seek one immediately.

RELATED: How to Manage Neck Pain

Rest Immediately

As soon as you can, lie down and keep your neck neutral. Don’t try to turn your head one way or the other. You could increase the strain and potentially cause further damage to the area.

RELATED: Stop “Text Neck” With 3 Simple Exercises

Ice/Heat Packs

For roughly 15 minutes, rest an ice pack on the area where you feel pain. Repeat this a few times a day for the first three days after you get hurt. After Day 3, repeat this pattern using a heating pad until the pain is gone.

Pain Relievers

Over-the-counter pain medication like aspirin, acetaminophen and naproxen can provide pain relief. If you’re under 18, make sure you talk to your parents before taking any medication.

RELATED: Neck Pain Explained, And How to Fix It

Light Massage

Have a coach, family member or therapist lightly massage around your neck until you feel relief. You can also use a foam roller or a rolled-up towel and do self-massage.

Long-Term Rest

Resting also applies to training and playing. Refrain from training or playing your sport until you’re healed and can turn your head without pain.

Self-Evaluation

Eventually, you’ll need to try to move and see whether the injury is still there, or if you’ve healed. Attempt to perform this routine a few times a day. If you feel pain at any point, stop immediately and follow the relief tips above or consult your physician.

  • Start by sitting upright in a chair and looking straight ahead.
  • Slowly raise your chin and look up to the ceiling.
  • Lower your head so you’re looking straight down at the floor.
  • Raise your head back up so you’re looking straight ahead.
  • Turn your head to your left as far as you comfortably can without turning your shoulders.
  • Repeat to your right.
  • Return to looking straight ahead.
  • Tilt your head like you want your left ear to touch your left shoulder.
  • Repeat on your right side.
  • Finally, perform a couple of neck rolls in both directions.

If you can do this routine several times a day for a couple of days, you should be OK to resume training. If you play a sport, get cleared by your doctor before going back into action.

If you still feel pain after two weeks, talk to your doctor about further options.

Physio Works – Physiotherapy Brisbane

Article by J. Miller, N. Stewart

What is a Neck Sprain?

Neck sprain or its aliases: neck spasms, neck muscle strain or simply neck muscle pain, is very common.

In fact, neck sprain is the probably the most common source of neck pain. The good news is, that it is also one of the quickest neck problems to heal and rehabilitate.

What Causes Neck Sprain?

Most causes of neck sprain are muscle, ligament or joint related. Commonly, these neck injuries are caused by neck muscular strains, ligament sprains and/or neck joint dysfunction, particularly when pain arises suddenly during or following physical loading of your neck. Muscle fatigue (poor posture sitting or sleeping eg wry neck), excessive loads (lifting heavy items), or high-speed injuries (eg whiplash, concussions) are the most common causes.

The causes of neck pain are numerous but roughly fall into the following categories.

Neck Muscle Strain

Neck muscle pain is the most common source of neck pain. Muscle fatigue, excessive loads or poor lifting or sitting postures are the most common problems.

Inefficient, weak, or neck muscles that lack endurance can lead to poor neck joint stabilisation and subsequent injury to your neck muscles, ligaments, joints or even spinal discs.

Posture Fatigue

Poor posture when sitting, standing and lifting at work, can place unnecessary stress upon your neck and spine. With muscle fatigue or overstretching, your ligaments and discs can stretch and this places spinal joint muscles and nerves under pain-causing pressure or strain, that results in neck or back pain.

Neck Ligament Sprains

Ligaments are the strong fibrous bands that limit the amount of movement at available at each spinal level. Stretching ligaments too far or too quickly will tear them with subsequent bleeding into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling, muscular spasm and pain.

Awkward lifting, sports injuries (concussion or collisions) and motor vehicle accidents (whiplash) are very common causes. Just as in other regions of the body, physiotherapy hastens ligament healing and relieves pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible.

What are Symptoms of Neck Sprain?

Neck muscle pain symptoms may range from a mild ache, stiff neck, neck spasms, muscle knots to sudden debilitating neck pain or even shoulder and shoulder blade pain.

Typical neck sprain symptoms include:

  • Localised neck pain and stiffness.
  • Neck muscle tenderness, tightness, knots or spasms.

You will usually feel better when resting or supporting your neck, and may find that a change of neck position painful eg look down, up or sideways, rolling in bed, lift your head or quick neck movements.

Warning Signs of a More Serious Neck Injury?

In these instances, or you have constant and severe neck pain, you may have a more severe injury such as a disc bulge or pinched nerve in your neck. These can affect your upper limb and lower limb function. Very severe cases can even affect your bodily function such as your bladder or bowel control. If this is the case, please urgently consult your nearest hospital, doctor or physiotherapist.

Neurological signs:

  • pins and needles (paraesthesia) in your neck or arm
  • numbness (anaesthesia) in your neck or arm,
  • arm or leg muscle weakness,
  • altered tendon reflexes (eg biceps to triceps jerk),
  • difficulty lifting arms overhead or walking,
  • loss of control of bladder or bowels.

How is Neck Sprain Diagnosed?

Differentiating a neck muscle strain from a ligament sprain can be difficult, as both injuries will show similar symptoms. However, an experienced healthcare practitioner such as a musculoskeletal physiotherapist is highly trained to specifically assess your muscles, ligaments, joints, discs and any potential nerve compromise. Please seek their professional opinion since neck treatments can vary considerably depending on your diagnosis.

What about Investigative Studies?

X-rays do not identify muscle or ligament injury but will identify arthritic changes and bone injuries such as fractures. MRI scan is probably the thorough diagnostic test to specifically identify disc, bone, muscle or ligament structures are injured and to what extent. CT scans are also very good. However, they are static images and do not identify locked joints or hypermobile joints without ligament rupture.

What is Neck Sprain Treatment?

Seek a Professional Diagnosis!

All neck pain sufferers should be thoroughly examined by a spinal health practitioner eg physiotherapist. Neck pain is designed to notify you to protect your neck injury and resolution of your pain may not restore you to normal neck joint range, muscle length and strength to prevent a future recurrence. Your physiotherapist has some nifty tricks for quickly relieving your neck sprain pain so that you can enjoy life again as soon as possible.

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Neck Sprain Treatment Aims

PHASE I – Pain Relief & Protection

Managing your neck pain is the main reason that you seek treatment for neck sprain. In truth, the pain was actually the final symptom that you developed and should be the first symptom to improve.

Your physiotherapist will use an array of treatment tools to protect your neck sprain and reduce your pain and inflammation. These may include ice, electrotherapy eg tens, acupuncture, taping techniques, soft tissue massage, back braces, dry needling etc. Your doctor may also recommend a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.

PHASE II – Restoring Normal ROM, Strength

As your neck pain and inflammation settle, your physiotherapist will turn their attention to restoring your normal neck motion, muscle lengths and resting muscle tension, muscle strength and endurance, proprioception and joint position sense.

Your physiotherapist will commence you on a neck muscle stability program to facilitate your important muscles that dynamically control and stabilise your neck. Your physiotherapist will assess your muscle recruitment pattern and prescribe the best exercises for you specific to your needs.

PHASE III – Restoring Full Function

Depending on your chosen sport, work or activities of daily living, your physiotherapist will aim to restore your function to safely allow you to return to your desired activities. Everyone has different demands for their necks that will determine what specific treatment goals you need to achieve. Your physiotherapist will tailor your rehabilitation to help you achieve your own functional goals.

PHASE IV – Preventing a Neck Pain Recurrence

Recurrence of neck pain can and does regularly occur. The main reason it is thought to recur is due to insufficient rehabilitation. In particular, poor deep neck flexor muscle exercises have been shown to render your neck more vulnerable to instability and therefore re-injury.

To prevent a recurrence, you should continue a regular series of these exercises a few times per week. Think of your exercises as your anti-neck pain pill! Your physiotherapist will assist you in identifying the best exercises for you.

Neck Pain Treatment Options

There are many treatment options that your Physiotherapist will discuss with you in the treatment of your pain. Treatment varies based on the source of your individual symptoms.

Neck Brace

A neck brace or soft collar may be recommended in severe cases of neck pain, instability or neurological signs. they are certainly less commonly prescribed than ten years ago.

Acupuncture or Dry Needling

Acupuncture has been an effective source of pain relief for over 5000 years. While we do not fully understand how it works, acupuncture can assist your neck pain relief. Ask your physiotherapist for advice as most of our PhysioWorks physiotherapists have acupuncture training. More info: Acupuncture

Massage

Massage always feels wonderful, plus it has wonderful muscle relaxation benefits. Neck massage is particularly useful when muscle spasm or chronic muscle tension is present. Regular remedial massage is also a very handy low back pain prevention strategy. More info: Massage

TENS Machine

TENS machines are an electronic pain relieving device that will reduce your neck pain and your need for pain relieving drugs. More info: Tens Machine

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Common Neck Pain Treatments

  • Bed Rest
  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • What to do after a Muscle Strain or Ligament Sprain?
  • Acupuncture and Dry Needling
  • Sub-Acute Soft Tissue Injury Treatment
  • Scapular Stabilisation Exercises
  • Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Ergonomics
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Deep Neck Stabilisation Exercises
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Neurodynamics
  • Physiotherapy Instrument Mobilisation (PIM)
  • Prehabilitation
  • Strength Exercises
  • Stretching Exercises
  • Supportive Taping & Strapping
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Yoga
  • What Recovery Can You Expect?

    Neck pain has many causes and EARLY diagnosis and treatment is the best way to recover quickly.

    Simple neck muscle pain can usually improve within a week or two of injury if you manage your injury properly. However, muscular pain or spasm lasting more than a few days is normally protective spasm overlying a more significant neck injury, which should be professionally investigated. It may not be just a simple neck muscle strain!

    Most sufferers of neck pain will recover within 4 to 6 weeks. However, this time can vary greatly as it depends on both the nature of your injury and the treatment plan that you develop with your physiotherapist.

    How Can You Prevent Recurring Neck Pain?

    If you have suffered neck pain in the past, you are unfortunately more likely to suffer in the future and worsening bouts. The most common cause of recurrent neck pain is insufficient rehabilitation.

    Follow the advice of your physiotherapist, who will establish a treatment plan to help you achieve your short-term goals and help prevent a recurrence.

    While there are no guarantees, it is well known that active individuals who exercise and adopt safe lifting and postures at home and at work are at a reduced risk of developing neck pain.

    Discuss with your physiotherapist the specific postures and activities that you perform on a daily basis. They will aim to help you to understand how to position yourself and move with the lowest risk of injury based on your injury type and potential weaknesses.

    FAQs about Neck Muscle Strains & Ligament Sprains

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    Related Neck Injuries

  • Ankylosing Spondylitis
  • Bulging Disc
  • Cervical Radiculopathy
  • Cervicogenic Dizziness
  • Cluster Headaches
  • Cramps
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Facet Joint Pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Migraine
  • Muscle Strain
  • Neck Arm Pain
  • Neck Headache
  • Neck Sprain
  • Overuse Injuries
  • Pinched Nerve
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • RSI – Repetitive Strain Injury
  • Scoliosis
  • Spondylosis (Spine Arthritis)
  • Temporomandibular Joint Pain (TMJ)
  • Tension Headache
  • Text Neck
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Whiplash
  • Wry Neck
  • Summit Medical Group Web Site

    Preventing Back and Neck Pain

    About Back and Neck Pain

    Many people experience upper back and neck pain. It can be caused from a traumatic event such as a fall or motor vehicle accident. But repetitive use from common activities like working on a computer, talking on the phone, using office machines, sitting at a desk, and riding in a car for many hours also can cause your back and neck to be stiff and sore.

    There are some simple steps you can take to help prevent neck injury from overuse. First, examine your daily routine and be aware of postures/positions that might contribute to stiffness and pain. If you discover you are hunching over, twisting your back, or staying in the same position for long periods, make a point of sitting up and keeping your back straight. Changing your position often, including standing up, taking a walk, and stretching gently are good ways to avoid stiffness.

    If you sit in a chair for long periods, be sure it fits you well and supports your lower, middle, and upper back. Be sure your legs are bent at a 90° angle. Sit up straight and avoid hunching over your desk or keyboard. You should use the same approach when sitting in your car.

    When sitting at a computer, be sure the screen is at eye level. Keep your keyboard at waist level, with your elbows bent at a 90° angle so your arms are parallel with your thighs. This approach will keep your wrists straight and from bending too high or too low. Keeping your wrists straight can help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

    If you file papers or use a scanner, stand up straight instead of hunching over the machines.

    Use a speaker or headset when talking on the phone so that you aren’t tempted to use your neck and chin to hold the phone. Headsets are a great for helping you sit up straight.

    At night, be sure your pillow supports your neck and keeps it straight. Your mattress should be firm enough to support your spine, with only slight give in the very top layer.

    Lifting heavy objects and performing activities that require you to twist and turn often also can cause a sore neck and back. If they are part of your work routine, be sure to follow these tips on proper lifting:

    • Consider how best to lift the object
    • Ask someone or others to help if the object is heavy
    • Discuss and agree on your plan with your helpers before you begin
    • Clear the path you need before you begin moving the object
    • Wear a back brace or back belt for support
    • Keep the object close to your body for stability and strength
    • Do not lift the object above your shoulders
    • Be sure you have a firm hold on the object at all times
    • Keep your feet no more than shoulder-width apart to establish a firm base
    • Bend your knees while raising and lowering the object
    • Raise and lower the object with your leg muscles rather than your back muscles
    • Keep your stomach muscles tight to help support your back
    • Keep your eyes focused upward to avoid the tendency to bend the back
    • Take small steps
    • Avoid twisting your back — keep your spine, shoulders, and hips straight
    • Lift and moveslowly and carefully
    • Stop and get more help if you feel your back straining!

    Most back pain improves with simple steps you can take on your own, including resting your back, avoiding activities that irritate it, and taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help alleviate the pain. Continuous, intense back pain, however, might mean you have permanently damaged your discs or nerves. Be sure to see your doctor if your back pain, however mild or severe, lasts more than a few weeks without improvement. He or she can help identify the cause of the pain and recommend ways to resolve it or prevent it from worsening.

    Signs of a serious back and neck problem can include:

    • A fever
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Difficulty urinating
    • Difficulty with bowel movements
    • Pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
    • Numbness or tingling in the groin, anal region, and buttocks
    • Throbbing abdominal pain
    • Unintended weight loss

    When your back pain is the result of a serious problem that doesn’t respond to therapies such as rest, cold compresses, gentle stretching and exercise, you might need surgery to alleviate pressure on the nerves from a herniated disk or narrowed spinal column (spinal stenosis), compression fracture of the spine, or a severe spinal injury.

    To learn more or schedule an appointment for ongoing back or neck pain,
    please call Summit Medical Group Physiatry today
    at 908-277-8646.

    To learn more about strengthening and best practices for your back,
    please call Summit Medical Group Physical Therapy today at 908-277-8936.

    Read about treatment options for low back and leg pain.

    Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies

    A neck strain occurs when one or more fibers in a neck muscle or tendon stretches too far and tears. This injury, also called a pulled muscle, can vary in intensity depending on the tear’s size and location. While a neck strain typically heals on its own within a few days or weeks, the pain may range from mild and achy to sharp and debilitating.

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    A neck sprain or strain occurs when there an injury to the soft tissues of the neck.
    Watch: Neck Strains and Sprains Video

    Sometimes the terms neck strain and neck sprain are used interchangeably. While a sprain is an injury to a ligament (not a muscle or tendon), the symptoms of pain and stiffness felt in both a strain and sprain are typically similar and resolve on their own before an official diagnosis is sought.

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    Neck Muscle Function and Strain

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    The neck muscles and other soft tissues play important roles in the cervical spine’s movements, stability, and function. Read Neck Muscles and Other Soft Tissues[

    More than 20 muscles are connected in the neck. These muscles work together to help support the head’s upright position and facilitate movements of the head, neck, jaw, upper back, and shoulders

    See Cervical Spine Anatomy

    A healthy muscle is comprised of numerous muscle fibers. Within each of these fibers are bundles of myofibrils that contain contractile proteins, which perform the actual contractions for muscle movements. When the muscle overexerts or stretches too far, small tears can form in the muscle, tendon, or connective tissue between the muscle and tendon, which is usually the weakest part.

    More extensive neck strains involve more inflammation, which leads to more swelling, pain, and a longer recovery period. The strained muscle’s strength while the injury is healing largely depends on how many muscle fibers were torn.

    Two long neck muscles that are at an increased risk for strain are:

    • Levator scapulae. This muscle travels down the side of the neck, from top of the cervical spine to the scapula (shoulder blade). The levator scapulae plays a key role in bending and rotating the neck to the side, and these movements can be hindered if the muscle is strained.

      See Easy Levator Scapulae Stretch for Neck Pain

    • Trapezius. This kite-shaped (trapezoidal) muscle runs from the base of the skull and goes more than halfway down the back, as well as out to the shoulders. The upper trapezius muscle helps facilitate many movements, including head tilts and neck extension (looking up).

    Other neck muscles can also become strained, and it is possible for more than one neck muscle to become painful at the same time.

    In This Article:

    • Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies
    • Neck Strain Symptoms
    • Neck Strain Diagnosis
    • Neck Strain Treatments and Prevention
    • Neck Strains and Sprains Video
    • Treatment for Neck Strain or Sprain Video

    Causes of Neck Strain

    Some common causes of neck strain include:

    • Poor posture or holding an awkward position. The neck’s muscles, tendons, and other soft tissues can become overstretched when the head is held too far forward or tilted at an angle for too long. Some examples include being hunched over a computer for several hours, holding the phone between the ear and shoulder, or sleeping in a position that does not support the cervical spine well. An increasingly common problem is text neck, which describes neck pain that is caused by looking down at a phone screen or other wireless device for too long or too frequently.

      See How Poor Posture Causes Neck Pain

    • Lifting something too heavy. It is likely for the neck to become overexerted and strained when lifting something that requires too much work for the muscles. a
    • Collision or fall. A sudden impact can jar the head and cervical spine to move too quickly for the muscles, which may lead to whiplash or other types of neck strain injuries. Some examples include auto accidents, bike accidents, or sports injuries, such as in football.

      Watch: Whiplash Video

    • Performing a new activity. Putting any muscle through a new type of activity that is somewhat strenuous makes it more susceptible to strain, including in the neck. For instance, athletes are more susceptible to muscle strains at the beginning of a training season.1
    • Repetitive motions. Even for motions and loads that neck muscles can handle, doing too many repetitions can eventually strain the muscles.

    This is not a complete list of neck strain causes. Sometimes the exact cause of a neck strain is not known.

    The Course of Neck Strain

    A neck strain may be painful as soon as the injury occurs, or it may take many hours for the inflammation to increase and symptoms to appear. Sometimes the symptoms start so gradually that it is difficult to trace how or when the injury occurred. Typically, neck strain pain and stiffness continue to worsen during the first day or two after the injury.

    See Treatment for a Stiff Neck

    While most neck strains take a few weeks to completely heal, symptoms tend to mostly go away in less than a week. In general, severe muscle strains tend to take closer to 12 weeks to heal, but these rarely occur in the neck without the involvement of a more serious injury.

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    When to See a Doctor for Neck Strain

    For most episodes of neck strain, self-care and avoiding any additional strain to the neck is enough to manage symptoms until the injury is healed. Medical attention should be sought if the initial injury was part of a major trauma (such as a car crash or fall from height), has worsened or not improved within a few days, or is accompanied by troubling symptoms, such as numbness or tingling in the arm, weakness in the arms or legs, or difficulty with balance.

    Lifting Weights with Back or Neck Pain: 7 Things You Need to Know

    Patients with back or neck pain often want to know if they can still work out and lift weights, and if so, how can they work out without doing further damage. You’ll be happy to know, lifting weights with back or neck pain is possible with some modifications, which we’re going to provide in just a moment.

    Before we do that, you need to know a couple of things. First, before doing any exercises with back and neck pain, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider to make sure exercise is appropriate for your particular condition. Second, if your workout is causing abnormal pain at any point, don’t embrace the pain; it’s a signal you need to heed its warning and back off. Note that muscle soreness due to repetitions and weight resistance is normal, expected pain or tension; however, if the workout is stressing a known condition and creating more pain, take a break or move on to a different exercise.

    The 7 Things You Need to Know Before Lifting Weights with Back or Neck Pain

    1. No-No Exercises

    On our list of no-no exercises for back and neck pain is dead lifts, squats with weights, flexion exercises with weight, rotation exercises with weight, and Olympic lifts. These exercises performed with heavy weights can damage back discs, especially if the back is already in pain. Squats with no weight or light weight (no more than 20 pounds) should be fine as long as they aren’t irritating back or neck pain.

    2. Stretching Is Critical

    Your high-school gym teacher really was right: stretching is critical. For back and neck pain, make sure you focus on stretches that open up the chest and hips and get the head back, such as Dr. Centeno’s “Old Man Stretch” seen here.

    3. Focus on Your Core

    One core exercise should be completed for every other type of exercise (such as legs or arms) completed. Core exercises include, chops with a pulley, bridging, hip abductor and adductor exercises, ab exercises, chest rotation, and so on. One great modification to chest presses on a bench is to decrease the weight and perform the chest press resting your back on a Swiss ball rather than a bench.

    4. Train into Symmetry

    Everyone has a side that’s weaker than the other and/or areas that are weaker than others. You should cater your exercise to the weaker side or area. If, for example, you can row 80 pounds on your right but you can only row 40 pounds on your left, you’re not doing yourself any favors, and will likely increase back or neck pain or cause more damage, by trying to row 80 on both sides. You first have to focus on increasing weight on the left-side until you reach that 80-pound balance.

    5. Train into a Normal Posture

    If the weight is so heavy, it forces you into an abnormal posture—forward head, collapsed chest, curved back, strained under gravity, etc.—lower the weight. Working out in front of a mirror will help you stay keyed in to your posture at all times. If your posture is affected and you don’t lower your weights, you’re risking more back and neck pain and potentially damage. The goal should be to gradually increase your weight with training while maintaining proper posture.

    6. Lower Your Weights Until the Core is Normally Active

    Your core muscles will sometimes become overloaded when you lift heavy weight. A sign of this is when your core tightens up. Backing off, readjusting, and lowering the weight should help and lower your back and neck risks.

    7. Use Treatment to Facilitate Your Workout

    Other than that normal muscle soreness discussed earlier, your workout shouldn’t be a painful experience. If a muscle acts up or goes into spasm, you should stop and treat the muscle. For example, use a foam roller to loosen up a rib muscle that’s tightened up or having spasms. Don’t keep pushing through and working out that muscle to save time as this risks injury to the muscle.

    Focusing on these 7 things provides a good foundation for lifting weights with back or neck pain. The most important thing you need to know in any exercise program is to listen to your body. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not, so don’t risk injury by pushing through. If the pain continues, determining the cause of your back or neck pain would be important so that nonsurgical regenerative interventional orthopedic treatment can allow you to continue working out.

    My Top 7 Tips for Weight Lifting with Back and Neck Pain

    I often get asked by back- and neck-pain patients how they should be working out at the gym or with a personal trainer. While there are no published and tested guidelines, what follows is what I have learned through years of trial and error as someone who has both issues and who likes working out. Like anything else, please check with your own healthcare provider to ensure you’re healthy enough to work out or lift weights.

    First, “no pain, no gain” was a marketing slogan from Jane Fonda’s 1980s work-out videos, not solid medical advice. Poor Jane ended up with bilateral hip and knee replacements. Hence, if at any time during your workout you’re getting pain, respect it and back off, don’t push through it. To explore that further, if the pain is just from muscle failure due to weight and repetition and is nothing more than muscle soreness, that’s fine. However, if the workout is aggravating a known painful condition, then it’s time to back off. For example, this week, I had biceps and triceps soreness from a big bi/tri workout. That was different from pain in the back of my left shoulder with a cable exercise that I knew wasn’t good, so I canceled that one exercise.

    Here are my top 7 tips for working out with back and neck pain or problems:

    • No deadlifts or squats with weight, no flexion and/or rotation with weight. I could fill a whole practice with people who blew out a low-back disc with deadlifts or squatting too heavy. Let’s also add Olympic lifts into this category. Flexion with weight is how low-back discs are damaged, so these activities are out. Squats without weight or with light weight (body weight or up to 20 pounds) are fine.
    • Stretching is key. Get stretched out before you work out, especially opening the chest and hips and getting the head back. My old man stretch is a good start. consider buying the bible of stretching by Bob Anderson to learn more.
    • Core first! What I mean here is that for every exercise you do with your arms or legs, one should be done with the core. Core exercises include bridging, chops with a pulley, ab work, hip abductor and adductor exercises, chest rotation, engaging the core during arm or leg work, and so on. Core stability lifts are a great way to involve your core and reduce your lifting weight. As an example, rather than chest presses on a bench, lower the weight and bench on a Swiss ball (see pic above).
    • Train into symmetry. Everyone has a weak side or area. You should be focusing on these sides or areas and making them your least common denominator. Meaning, if you can row with 80 pounds on the right but can only do 40 pounds on the left, you have no business trying a row with both hands at 80+ pounds. First, you need to get your left-sided row up to 80 pounds.
    • Train into a normal posture. When the weights go up, we all tend to lose good posture. Our heads come forward, our chest collapses, and we give into gravity. So training with mirrors is critical, as you need to keep your head back, chest out, back curved, and posture straight from a left to right standpoint at all times. If you can’t do this, lower the weights and increase the reps until you can, and don’t up the weights again until you can keep this perfect form.
    • Lower the weights until the core is normally active. What I mean here is that your core will sometimes go into overdrive as you lift heavy. As an example, when I lift heavy, my left neck (scalenes and SCM) will tighten. I automatically know that I’m overloading what my neck can handle, so I back off or readjust my shoulders to try to take the neck out.
    • Use treatment to facilitate your workout. This means that your workout should be as pain-free as possible (other than normal muscle soreness from failure). As an example, my left flank will act up sometimes while lifting. That’s my left latissimus dorsi and posterior rib muscles going into spasm and not being properly stretched. I use a foam roller when that happens to get that loose and those muscles turned back on. The same with my outer left thigh, where I use a quad and psoas stretch to get that right. Why take the time? Because lifting while these muscle areas are painful and offline increases the risk of injury. While these are simple examples, another more complex one is the irritated nerves in my lower back that were causing heavy legs. For that, I needed to have one of my partners inject high-dose growth factors around those nerves. Either way, getting out of pain was a critical part of advancing my workout.

    The upshot? While I know this is a quick list, I hope it helps you or your personal trainer have some guidelines and rules to follow. You can work out and get strong with back or neck pain as long as you follow some simple rules! If I had to boil it all down to one sentence, it would be, “Listen to your body!”

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