Whiplash and Whiplash Treatment

By Barbara Hales, M.D.
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Mature Woman Suffering from Whiplash Wearing Surgical Collar In Pain

What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash, which is known to many people as neck sprain, is an injury following trauma or damage to the neck. Often it stems from sudden backward or forward movement of the head such as you would experience in a car accident.

Damage can be seen along the neck to vertebral discs, ligaments, intervertebral joints (between vertebrae), nerve roots and cervical muscles.

What Should I Expect With Whiplash?

Symptoms include:

  • Neck Stiffness
  • Neck pain
  • Back pain
  • Headaches and Dizziness
  • Irritability or fatigue
  • Poor focus and concentration
  • Forgetfulness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Pain or numbness in arm and/or hand

Diagnosis is made by extensive history of symptoms accompanied by an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT scan to see the damage involved.

Whiplash Treatment

Immobilization of the neck with a cervical collar is no longer recommended. Rather, it is advised to apply ice for the first 24 hours to decrease swelling, followed by gentle movement, application of heat and massage.

Medication for relief of pain in the form of ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen Aleve, Naprosyn) can be obtained over the counter without a prescription.

Physical therapy, traction and ultrasound have been used in more persistent cases.   Physical therapy aids in improving circulation, promoting healing and returning rages of motion back to the original state. Ultrasound imaging detects soft-tissue injuries that would not be seen on traditional X-rays.

Physical therapy, recommended for persistent chronic or long-term pain, consists of a series of visits involves:

  • Stretching-gently stretching affected muscle groups
  • Strengthening-exercises using body activities, resistance bands and specialized machines found in the therapist’s office
  • Low-impact aerobic training-increases your heart rate and warms up the muscles prior to strengthening exercises
  • Pain relief exercises- focus on pain areas and increase flexibility
  • Heat packs- warm the muscles to facilitate easier motion

 In severe cases of whiplash, trigger point injections are performed to relieve symptoms lasting more than 6 weeks. Injections are given to block the areas of pain.

Luckily, most people suffering from a whiplash injury recover completely. Surgery is seldom needed (reserved for herniated discs that have not resolved with conservative therapies).

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