Anyone can suffer an injury to their neck or back, but those engaging in physical activity, particular contact sports, are at a higher risk than most. Whilst athletes and sports-people are likely to be healthier and stronger than the general populace, the extra strain that repetitive motion and high impact activities can have on their systems makes wear and tear, as well as acute neck injury and neck pain, more likely.
The Brachial Plexus
Football players commonly suffer injuries to the brachial plexus. This is a complex network of nerves originating from the fifth to the eighth cervical spinal nerves (C5-C8) and the first thoracic spinal nerve (T1). Damage to this area is usually a result of trauma, particularly where a football player has their head titled upward, when running forward, and is tackled forcing their shoulder down and away from their head. In rare circumstances inflammation of the brachial plexus can occur without obvious trauma, such as in Parsonage-Turner Syndrome. In addition, many other neck pain conditions, such as a bulging disc in the neck, can arise post playing days which are a direct result of sports injuries.
Symptoms of brachial plexus injuries include burning neck pain, shoulder pain, weakness and numbness in the upper limbs, and arm pain (Olson, 2007). Using correct protective equipment when playing sports can help minimize the risk of this kind of injury, as can proper rest if trauma does occur to the area. Repeated minor trauma to the area can also cause ongoing chronic pain in the neck.
Pulled Neck Muscles
Over-training at the gym can lead to pulled muscles and result in back and neck pain. Accidents, where weights are lifted or dropped awkwardly can also give rise to acute neck pain and trauma. This makes it especially important when using a new piece of gym equipment to know how to use it safely, so as to not put undue strain on the body. Overloading when lifting weights, or moving too quickly between weight-sets can lead to muscle strains and even serious tears of the muscles in the neck and upper body causing both acute and chronic neck pain.
Uneven Muscle Tone and Alignment Problems
Concentrating on one side of the body when working out may lead to uneven muscle tone and future problems with posture, leading to head and neck pain. It is important to warm up properly before a workout so as to ease the muscles into full stretch. Cold muscles with little blood flow will not respond well to sudden demands on them from heavy weights and this can lead to sports neck injuries.
A Blow to the Neck
Those who compete in contact sports, such as football, or martial arts, may suffer a blow to the neck which can cause both sharp, acute neck pain, and chronic neck pain. If trauma like this is inflicted on the neck then it may help to apply an ice pack to reduce the inflammation, and rest the area whilst it heals. The natural remedy Arnica can be particularly helpful, in gel form, to reduce muscle inflammation and promote healing, and fish oil or other good source of anti-inflammatory omega 3 is also popular. Putting further strain on the neck by continuing the activity may lead to further problems and slow healing.
Contact sports also come with the risk of bone fractures from high-impact tackles or falls. A fractured rib, cervical rib, collarbone, or even a break in the neck itself can lead to acute neck pain. If the condition goes untreated then inflammation can cause chronic pain, and further trauma to the area may lead to irreparable damage. Any trauma and severe pain in the neck should be investigated to rule out fractures, disc herniation, or even spinal cord compression.
Sports injuries are common and can be both mild and serious. If in doubt, even after an impact during a friendly game of football, it is advisable to seek a medical opinion to check there is no long-lasting damage. Using NSAIDs or alternative anti-inflammatory drugs and pain-relievers can help during healing. Using correct equipment and maintaining good core strength and general health should reduce the severity of any sports neck injuries if they occur.
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