What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a common complaint of neck pain that occurs when an external force causes the neck to jerk back and forth in a rapid motion. This is usually the result of a rear-end car crash. Technically speaking, whiplash is the unrestrained transfer of energy causing your head to extend backward beyond its normal range of motion then rapidly change direction and bend forward again beyond its normal range of motion. This can cause significant damage to ligaments, tendons, muscles, and the facet joints in the cervical spine, all which contribute to chronic neck pain.
What causes a Whiplash Injury?
By far, the most frequent cause of a Whiplash injury is a car accident involving being hit from behind. Car accidents are not the only cause, however. Some other causes of Whiplash are:
- Physical abuse
- Contact-sport collisions
- Bicycling accidents
- Horseback riding
- Falls and direct blows to the head
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Symptoms of Whiplash
The symptoms of Whiplash vary greatly from individual to individual. They may be immediate or you may not experience any symptoms until days after the incident. They may include any or all of the following:
- Neck pain that worsens with movement
- Pain in upper back and/or shoulder blades
- Stiffness in neck
- Headaches, mostly cervicogenic meaning that they are coming from the neck and will begin at the base of the skull
- Jaw pain
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Pain, tingling and numbness that can extend down into the arm and hands
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Blurred vision
- Back pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory problems and difficulty concentrating
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The treatment for Whiplash depends on the specific symptoms that you are experiencing as a result of your injury. Thorough education of the disorder, what occurred, and that most people with Whiplash reach a point of recovery seems to be the most important intervention that needs to precede any other treatment.
In the past, treatment Whiplash symptoms consisted of wearing a soft collar for several weeks. But it has been determined that this immobilization of the cervical spine is detrimental to recovery and that early gentle range of motion exercises will speed recovery. Along with gentle active movements, other treatments that may improve the symptoms of Whiplash are:
- NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
- Muscle relaxers and prescription pain medications
- Physical therapy which can provide proper stretching and strengthening exercises, soft tissue mobilization, electrical stimulation, and traction. Early movement of the neck will prevent tightening of structures and facilitate blood flow to the area
- Steroid injections
- Facet joint injections that numb the area may be attempted have the purpose of numbing pain in the rea and if successful at reducing pain, helps your doctor to pinpoint the location of damage causing pain
- Although constant wearing of a cervical collar is not recommended anymore, it may be beneficial to wear one at night so as to avoid any aggravating movements of the neck during sleep
Alternative methods may be beneficial as well such as:
- Mind-body therapy
- Chiropractic care