If you have been involved in a car accident, you might have suffered from whiplash resulting in neck pain. At Axon Health Associates, we diagnose and manage the condition together with our medical and chiropractic experts for holistic solutions tailored to your needs.
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash, also known as neck sprain or neck strain, is a soft tissue injury that occurs when your neck structures extend beyond their typical motion range, similar to how a whip cracks. It is caused by a sudden back- and forth forceful movement of your head. Some structures commonly affected include the muscles, ligaments, vertebral disks, and nerves.
The condition is most common in rear-end car collisions or sports injuries. Additionally, whiplash can be caused by slow-speed collisions from any side. Whiplash can be mild or a long-term chronic condition. The signs and symptoms usually develop within the first 24 hours after injury; therefore, visiting the ER (emergency room) or your primary care provider immediately after an accident is essential.
Causes of Whiplash
The condition occurs when the neck muscles suffer a strain from the forward or backward movement of the head, causing the neck’s ligaments to tear and stretch. Whiplash results from:
- Amusement park rides
- Cycling collisions
- Physical abuse or assault like being shaken, struck or blows to the head
- Contact sports such as boxing, football, and martial arts
- Horseback riding
- Falls, especially those that involve your head jerking backward
Signs and symptoms may be immediate or delayed for several days and include:
- Injuries to the ligaments and muscles (myofascial injuries)
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Headache, mainly at the base of the skull
- Shoulder or back pain
- Loss of motion range in the neck
- Abnormal sensations like prickling or burning (paresthesia)
- Irritability and nervousness
- Pain or tenderness in the arms or upper arms
- Chronic pain in the head, neck, and shoulders
- Sleep disturbances
- Memory loss
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Loss of concentration
When to See the Doctor
You should seek urgent medical assistance if:
- You have recurrent severe neck pain
- You have numbness and weakness in your arm or leg
- Head movement gets painful
- Your symptoms spread to other areas such as your arms and shoulders
- You get issues with your bladder or bowel
Your doctor will ask questions to understand the severity of your symptoms and how often they occur. These questions might include:
- How you got the injury
- Specific areas of pain
- The intensity of the pain is either dull, sharp, or shooting
Your doctor may do a physical exam to check your range of motion, check for tenderness and ask you to perform simple tasks to check things like:
- Strength, sensation, and reflexes in your limbs
- Range of motion in your shoulder and neck
- Pain or tenderness in your neck, shoulders, and back
Your doctor might also order numerous imaging tests to rule out other conditions to assess any damage or inflammation in the soft tissue, nerves, or spinal cord and detect the presence of brain injury. These tests may include:
X-rays to check dislocations and fractures. This test ensures that the pain is not connected to another type of injury or degenerative disease like arthritis.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan helps to provide more details and information on your soft tissues, blood vessels, and bones.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans detect slight injuries in the soft tissues, spinal cord, disks, or ligaments.
In rare conditions, the doctor may order positron emission tomography (PET) or diffuse tensor imaging (DTI) scans to help find and measure the extent of an injury to the brain or other areas.
The goals of whiplash treatment are to control pain, restore normal range of neck motion and get you back to your normal activities. Treatment will depend on your condition and severity, including:
Rest for one or two days is recommended after your injury but avoid too much bed rest as it may delay recovery.
Heat or cold packs are applied for 15 minutes to the neck every three hours to help you feel better by relieving pain by relaxing the muscles and relieving muscle spasms.
Over-the-counter pain medications and relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), acetaminophen (Tylenol, and others)
Prescription medications such as antidepressant drugs relieve nerve pain.
Muscle relaxants for a short time use to soothe pain and loosen tight muscles. They are also used to restore normal sleep lost due to pain.
Physical therapy for severe whiplash cases to help restore the neck’s motion range. Your physical therapists may recommend the following to speed up recovery:
- Exercises to build strength and flexibility in your neck
- Practicing good posture
- Learning relaxation techniques to keep your neck muscles from straining and to help with recovery
A foam collar is recommended to keep the neck and head stable. It should not be worn for over 3 hours at a time and should only be used the first couple of days after your whiplash injury.
Exercises you can do at home as instructed by your doctor include stretching and movement exercises. Warm showers or moist heat to the painful areas before workouts can also help. Some activities may include rolling your shoulders, tilting your head side to side, bending your neck towards the chest, or gently rotating your neck.
These remedies help relieve pain, and they include:
- Massages to relieve tension in the neck muscles
- Chiropractic care
- Electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) helps reduce neck pain
In general, whiplash conditions of the head and neck clear within a few days or weeks, while most patients recover within three months. However, in some cases, residual headaches and neck pain may continue.
At Axon Health Associates, we offer a wide range of holistic treatments, including chiropractic and physical therapy. Your recovery depends on how fast you get medical assistance. Contact us today or schedule an appointment.