Minor neck injuries may result from tripping, falling a short distance, or excessive twisting of the spine. Severe neck injuries may result from whiplash in a car accident, or sports-related injuries.
“Burners” and “Stingers”
If you’ve played contact sports and suffered a burner or a stinger, you remember it. The pain shoots from the shoulder to the hand “like an electric shock or lightning bolt down the arm”. A burner or stinger is an injury to the nerve supply to the upper arm, either at the neck or shoulder, often following a fall onto the head – for example, following a tackle in football.
When the head is forced sideways and downward, it bends the neck and pinches the surrounding nerves. As a result, you may feel numbness or weakness in the arm and possibly a feeling of warmth.
Usually the symptoms subside quickly – within seconds or minutes – but in up to 10 percent of cases, the unpleasant sensations can last hours, days, or longer.
What Should be Done?
You should immediately get checked by a doctor. An examination will confirm the type of injury. If the symptoms pass, you will probably need no treatment. But you may need further medical attention if you experience weakness lasting more than a few days, neck pain, symptoms in both arms, or if you have a history of recurrent stingers or burners. Having a narrow spinal canal – spinal stenosis – may make you more prone to burners and stingers.
When your head is jerked violently and unexpectedly backward or forward – typically in a car accident or during contact sports – the resulting injury is known as whiplash. It can also be called cervical sprain (or strain) or hyperextension injury.
What Happens in a Whiplash Injury?
The pain is caused by the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, and ligaments) of the neck being forced to the very limit of their range of motion. If the ligaments are torn, there will be internal bleeding bleeding between them and the vertebrae. You may start to feel pain and experience stiffness in the neck within minutes or it make take several hours for symptoms to be felt. Further symptoms that result from whiplash may include neck spasms, dizziness, and headache.
What Should be Done?
It’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible. Modern surgical treatment with internal fixation (screws, plates, rods) has eliminated the need for cast treatment in all but the most unusual circumstances. A plastic collar may be used for a short period.
Subject to your doctor’s advice, anti-inflammatories and physiotherapy may help relieve discomfort in the early stages the recovery process.
You can expect a full recovery within a couple of weeks, although some people have problems for longer.