Whiplash injury, (also called neck sprain or neck strain), refers to an injury to the soft tissues of the neck due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip. Here are some important things you should know about this injury –
How Whiplash Occurs
Whiplash is common in people who suffer a blow to the head or suffer a slip or fall that causes the head to jolt backwards suddenly. It can also occur in people involved in a rear-end collision. The impact of the collision forces your neck and head to move back and forth suddenly and violently, causing these structures to stretch beyond their normal range of motion. The sudden forceful, backward and forward movement can injure the joints of the neck as well as over-stretch the muscles and ligaments of the neck and upper back.
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Knowing about the symptoms can help you recognize when something could be wrong. The primary symptom associated with the condition is neck or upper back pain. In most cases, the symptoms develop within 24 hours of injury and may vary widely among individuals. The signs of whiplash include –
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Tightness or spasms of the muscles in the neck or upper back
- Tenderness or pain in shoulder, upper back or arms
- Pain with movement of the neck, headache and dizziness (symptoms of a concussion)
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
- Abnormal sensations such as burning or tingling
Some people also experience symptoms such as blurred vision, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), sleep disturbances, irritability, difficulty concentrating and memory issues.
How is Whiplash Injury Diagnosed?
As part of the diagnosis, pain management physician will ask you questions about the injury, and type, frequency and severity of your symptoms. A detailed physical examination will be performed wherein the physician will examine and move your head, neck and arms and ask you to move these structures and perform simple tasks. This will help determine the range of motion and tenderness in your neck and shoulders. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out any bone fractures, and a CT scan or MRI scan may be conducted to see if there is a herniated disc or significant ligament injury.
What are the Treatment Modalities for Whiplash Injury?
Normally, mild or moderate cases of whiplash injury are treated at home using medications, cervical collar (brace), ice or heat application, or other remedies. However, unresolved symptoms like difficulty in walking, neck pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the arms or other issues with the bladder or bowels require medical attention. Leading multispecialty healthcare and pain management centers in Brooklyn, NYC offer a wide range of nonsurgical treatment modalities to address severe symptoms of this musculoskeletal condition. These treatment modalities include –
- Chiropractic care – Chiropractic treatment can loosen up the joints of the cervical vertebrae in the neck, which helps alleviate joint pain, muscle spasms and correct the overall spinal alignment.
- Physical therapy (PT) – Therapeutic exercises help strengthen the muscles that support the neck and promote healing. PT also helps patients improve posture and range of motion. PT exercise programs include gentle strengthening, stretching and aerobic exercises. Modalities such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation may be used in the early stages of treatment to lower pain.
- Ice or heat can be used to control pain and reduce muscle spasm and inflammation.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen can help control mild to moderate whiplash pain.
- Cervical epidural injections reduce pain by suppressing inflammation around the irritated nerve.
Most cases of whiplash occur due to rear-end car collisions and not much can be done to avoid such accidents. However, the following safety measures can reduce the risk of injury:
- Proper use of seat belts
- Appropriate adjustment of the car seat headrest to help keep the neck from snapping backwards
- Driving motor vehicles with airbags
People participating in contact sports need to use proper equipment like padding and also apply the right techniques to avoid neck injury.