Whiplash Injury – A Pain in the Neck

Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by a sudden movement back, forward or sideways of the head and neck. Depending upon the severity, it is also called a neck sprain or strain, cervical sprain or strain. The injury often involves the muscles, disks, tendons, and nerves.

Causes

  • Most whiplash injuries are caused by a car accident, often by being stuck from behind.
  • Shaken Baby Syndrome
  • Falls from a horse or a bicycle
  • Headbanging
  • Trauma from being hit, kicked or shook
  • Accidents, such as riding a snowboard or a skiing accident
  • Injury from riding a roller coaster or an amusement park ride that hyper-extends the neck or causes it to be snapped suddenly
  • Extreme, sudden training to lift or pull a very heavy object

Muscle and Ligament Symptoms

  • Tightness or spasms of the muscles of the neck or upper back
  • Pain with movement of neck
  • Decreased mobility and stiffness
  • Burning and tingling in neck and shoulders, upper back
  • Pain in shoulder
  • Pain in upper back or between shoulder blades
  • Pain in one arm
  • Low back pain
  • Pain in jaw or face
  • Pain in the face, the entire head, or behind the eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing plus hoarseness, which can be symptoms of injury to the esophagus or larynx

Neurological Symptoms

These symptoms may be the result of injury to the soft tissue in the neck or a mild brain injury or concussion.

  • Vision problems, blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Poor concentration, forgetfulness
  • Feeling of disorientation
  • Sensitivity to sound and light
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Dizziness (vertigo)
  • Feeling of pins and needles in arms, possibly legs

Diagnosing A Whiplash Injury

  • History and Physical must be done
  • X-rays to rule out fracture or dislocation
  • CT Scan (Computerized Axial Tomography) shows detailed images of neck
  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) produces detailed images

Treatment

Treatment depends upon the severity of symptoms.

  • Ice may be applied to neck for 24 hours after injury.
  • NSAID Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) may reduce pain and muscle inflammation.
  • Muscle Relaxants may be prescribed.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended.
  • Mild range of motion exercises may be prescribed with proper post methods to treat excessive strain on neck.
  • Cold and heat treatments may bring some relief.
  • Massage therapy promotes healing and relieving pain.
  • Chiropractic therapy may be recommended. Spinal manipulation appears to be the most effective within the first 6 weeks following the injury.
  • Soft collars are advised only for the first 2 or 3 days when pain and inflammation re the worst. Prolonged use has been shown to delay recovery from whiplash. In some cases, intermittent use is helpful.
  • A fraction or dislocation requires the wearing of a collar.

Prognosis

  • Mild whip lash injuries may heal within 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Moderate injuries require 2 to 3 months.
  • Severe whiplash may take months to heal and symptoms, such as headache and neck pain, may linger for 6 months or longer.
  • Chronic symptoms may last for years and degenerative changes in the disc and vertebrae may develop.

A whiplash injury truly can become a 'pain in the neck' for sufferers of its long term effects.