Whiplash is one of the most common injuries to the neck. It occurs when our neck is thrust in one direction while our chest and body remains relatively stable. This whipping motion stresses and strains the soft tissues and discs in our neck, which leads to pain and other symptoms. Below, we take a closer look at the causes, symptoms and treatment options associated with whiplash.
Whiplash Causes and Symptoms
As we noted above, whiplash is generally caused by a rapid change in motion of the neck, which stresses areas in the cervical spine. The leading cause of whiplash is the resulting motion of a car crash. During an auto accident, our seat belt helps to keep our body in place, but your neck may end up snapping forward or backwards, leading to a whiplash injury. Athletic activity, particularly football and soccer, are other common causes of whiplash.
Diagnosing whiplash can be a little more difficult that a more standard injury like a broken bone because symptoms don’t always develop right away. In many cases, symptoms may be delayed for 24 hours or longer after the moment of trauma. That’s because when we’re injured in a car accident or sports, these high stress moments trigger the release of chemicals from the brain, similar to a fight or flight response. These endorphins can mask pain in the short-term, meaning symptoms aren’t always noticeable right away.
Some symptoms of whiplash to watch for right away or within the first few days after an injury include:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Loss of range of motion
- Low back discomfort
- Radiating pain or numbness
- Difficulty concentrating or falling asleep
- Anxiety, fatigue or irritability
How is Whiplash Diagnosed and Treated?
Whiplash is something that is best diagnosed by a professional spine specialist. This is especially true if you were injured at work or in an automobile accident and you may be pursuing a compensation award. A medical diagnosis will provide clear details of the extent of your injury, which will help you build your case.
The diagnosis process begins with an in-person exam. Your spine doctor will look at the neck to check for signs of swelling, and they may slowly manipulate your neck to see if symptoms develop based on certain movements. They’ll also ask about your accident, your symptoms, and your medical history during this time. If they suspect whiplash is causing your pain, they may order an MRI or CT scan, because these types of imaging tests can reveal injuries to soft tissues, like ligaments and muscles.
There is no one-size-fits-all treatment option for whiplash, and it is best managed on a case by case basis. Some common treatment options that may be prescribed depending on your specific injuries include:
- Pain relief medications
- Range of motion exercises
- Physical therapy
- Heat or ice therapy
- Rest or bracing
The most common care recommendations for mild to moderate whiplash includes cold therapy for the first 24 hours to reduce swelling, pain relieving medications and gentle, active stretching.
Surgery is rarely needed for whiplash, but if other conditions occur in conjunction with whiplash, like a disc herniation or nerve compression, a motion preservation corrective procedure may be performed. For more information, or to speak to a spine surgeon about your neck pain, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi today.