Well, I’ve gone and done it again. I have sustained an injury. I wish I could say I was doing something awesome, like squatting 500 pounds, but I was just doing overhead presses. I have injured myself like this before, so past experience has me diagnosing myself with cervical strain.
My first encounter with a cervical strain was excruciating. I was rendered useless for about three days and it took about two weeks for the pain to go away. This was at the very beginning of my lifting career about five years ago. I was prescribed codeine and muscle relaxants, both of which provided little relief. Since then I have had this type of injury a handful of times, although the severity of each occurrence is always different, and nowhere near resembling my first time. The last few times I have been back on my feet the next day.
Neck Strain/Cervical Strain/Whiplash/Soft tissue damage are all terms used to describe this injury. The injury itself occurs in the tendons, muscles, and ligaments of the neck. Pain, stiffness, muscle spasm or weakness are common ailments. The duration of these symptoms varies depending on severity of the injury, continued stimulation, and rest practices. There are many causes for cervical strain including improper lifting or poor posture, but the root cause is the stretching of the muscle beyond its normal range.
When it comes to treating a cervical strain, there is little doctor can prescribe beyond pain killers and muscle relaxants. Rest is the only real cure. The onset of the injury is typically sudden, usually felt within moments of the injury. In some cases the injury may not present itself for several hours or until the next day. The onset of the symptoms of pain should be treated immediately to prevent further injury.
At the onset of pain, I immediately take ibuprofen for the discomfort and sit down to an ice pack and a heating pad. I use ice first to try to reduce inflammation, and then I follow-up with heat to relax and soothe the muscle. I find that heat works best and I often have increased range of motion immediately following a heat application. Massages do very little for me in terms of recovery or alleviating pain. If anything, I feel that massages aggravate the injury.
I am fortunate enough that I have not encountered a strain that has not recovered through home remedies. In some cases, such an injury can have a person off their feet for weeks or months. For severe cases, a doctor may prescribe therapy, steroid injections, braces, or even surgery.
Avoiding cervical strains in the gym is as simple as lifting the appropriate weight with good form. Despite my better judgement, I pushed myself too far the other day to get “just one more rep.” I usually stop at one before failure, but this time I just wanted it all. It was a hard rep, and the resulting effort to get it up caused an injury. I’ll know better for next time – but that’s what I said last time….