Category Archives: Spinal Strain and Sprain

Spine Sprain and Strain

presented-by-spine-universeA neck sprain or strain is a common spine injury.  A sprain or strain is a painful soft tissue disorder.  A sprain is an injury to a ligament.  A strain is an injury to a tendon or muscle.  Whiplash is an example of a sprain and strain type injury.


Sprain and strain symptoms include:

Cervical (Neck) Lumbar (Low back)
Pain; mild to intense Pain; mild to intense
Pain that spreads (radiates) into the shoulders, upper back, arms Pain that spreads (radiates) into the buttocks, legs
Upper body stiffness Lower body stiffness
Headache Sciatica
Jaw pain

Talk with your doctor

Sprain and strain symptoms may not be apparent after injury.  Sometimes symptoms develop hours or days after.  Sudden pain or pain that is severe, or that becomes chronic or progressive, requires evaluation by your doctor.  Even if you have consulted with your doctor about a sprain or strain, seek medical if any of these symptoms develop:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of coordination; hand clumsiness
  • Balance problems
  • Difficulty walking
  • Bladder or bowel dysfunction (rare)
  • Paralysis (rare)


Your doctor collects and compares information gathered while talking with you about your medical history and past and existing symptoms.  A physical and neurological examination looks for limitations of movement, balance difficulties, and what exacerbates and relieves pain.  During the exam he tests your reflexes, muscle strength, sensations, or other signs of neurologic loss.  Your doctor may order imaging studies such as plain x-ray, CT, or MRI to study and confirm you diagnosis to direct your treatment plan.


Surgery to treat a sprain or strain is rare.  Most patients respond to non-surgical care:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Muscle relaxant medication
  • Pain medication (occasionally, a narcotic)
  • Cold and heat therapy
  • Soft cervical collar or brace
  • Soft tissue massage
  • Physical therapy
  • Cervical (neck) or lumbar (low back) traction
  • Alternative therapies (eg, acupuncture)

Your treatment may include information to help you correct any problems with your posture and body mechanics.  Correct posture at rest and during activity can help your sprain or strain to heal and may help recurrence.

Spinal Cord Injury

presented-by-spine-universeSpinal cord injury (SCI) can be a devastating diagnosis.  Whenever spinal cord injury is suspected, urgent medical care is necessary because the spinal cord carries nerve messages between the brain and the rest of the body.  Some patients with SCI have a temporary or permanent loss of sensation and/or function below the injured level of the spine.

Types of SCI
The spinal cord can be injured by inadequate blood flow, bruising, or cutting without severing (rare).  There are two basic types of spinal cord injury; complete and incomplete.  A complete SCI is loss of all feeling and function on both sides of the body below the injury level.  An incomplete SCI means some feeling and function remains below the injury level and one side of the body may have more feeling or function than the other.

Sensation and function
There is a pair of spinal nerve roots at each level of the spine.  There are 5 regions of the spine. In general, each of these 5 regions provides feeling (sensation) and function (movement) to different parts of the body.

Region and Nerve Roots Region and Body Area Affected
Cervical (neck) – 8 pair 

Thoracic (chest – 12 pair

Lumbar (low back) – 5 pair

Sacral (pelvic – 5 pair

Coccyx (tailbone) – 1 pair

Cervical: neck, arms, hands 

Thoracic:  torso, arms

Lumbar: hips, legs

Sacral: groin, legs, toes

Coccyx: anus

There are many possible symptoms associated with SCI.  Symptoms vary and no two patients with spinal cord injury are the same.

  • Inability or difficulty breathing without help
  • Inability to regulate heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature
  • Bladder and/or bowel dysfunction
  • Pain
  • Uncontrollable muscle contractions (spasticity)
  • Infertility, sexual dysfunction

Paraplegia and quadriplegia (tetraplegia) are types of paralysis associated with SCI.  Paraplegia is spinal cord injury below the cervical spine.  Quadriplegia involves the cervical spine and these patients are not able to move their arms or legs.

The causes of spinal cord injury fall into one of two primary groups: traumatic and non-traumatic.  Examples of trauma include car accidents, gunshots, falling down, diving into shallow water, or sports injuries. Non-trauma causes are restricted blood flow (ischemia), spinal tumor, fracture, and other spine-related problems.

Medical care
The medical staff moves swiftly to quickly assess the patient’s condition noting any difficulty breathing, level of consciousness, ability or inability to move the arms and legs, and pain.

The evaluation process often involves complex and detailed imaging studies to determine where the injury is, its cause, and severity.  Other types of tests may be needed.


Powerful anti-inflammatory drugs are often part of the first course of immediate care to control inflammation caused by injury.  Next steps include preserving sensation and function, restoring function (eg, rehabilitation), and minimizing complications during aftercare.   Depending on the extent of the SCI, other concerns may include breathing, nutrition, bladder and bowel care, and skin problems (eg, bed sores).

There are many medical specialists involved in treating spinal cord injury.  These include physiatrists, rehabilitation nurses, occupational and physical therapists, speech pathologists, recreational and vocational therapists, and psychologists.

Depending on the cause and severity of the injury, surgery may be necessary to decompress the spinal cord and stabilize the spine.  Surgery can be important to help prevent pain, spinal deformity, and worsening of neurologic problems (eg, bladder dysfunction, weakness).