Whiplash is largely associated with car accidents but can be caused by a number of factors. While the symptoms of whiplash may present at the time of the injury, a delay of up to 24 hours before their appearance is also possible. Whiplash-associated disorders may develop over time if symptoms are not diagnosed promptly.
The disorders associated with whiplash can be devastating if symptoms are left untreated, and seeking early diagnosis and treatment for whiplash is recommended. At AlaMed Injury Clinics, we help you feel better and resume your normal activities through early diagnosis and whiplash treatment. Even if your injury doesn't seem serious, visit our clinic to get a treatment plan before your injury leads to further complications.
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs when the neck and head are forced into a forceful, sudden back-and-forth motion. The movement is likened to the cracking of a whip, hence the name. Through this quick motion of the neck and head, there is extreme stress exerted on the cervical spine resulting in pain and other whiplash symptoms.
Causes of Whiplash
Whiplash is mainly caused by rear-end auto accidents where neck muscles suffer a strain due to the rapid back-and-forth movement. Where the impact of the crash is great, neck muscles stretch and tear, resulting in serious cases of whiplash. Other potential causes of whiplash include:
- Physical abuse or assault
- Contact sports like football and others that involve tackles and collisions
- Horseback riding
- Bungee jumping
- High-impact activities involving extreme acceleration and deceleration forces
The signs of whiplash usually develop within 24 hours of the injury, and the most common include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Difficulty in moving the neck
- Headaches, particularly at the back of the head
- Blurred vision
- Shoulder and lower back pain
- Pain in the upper back, arms, and hands
- Tingling in the arms
- Ringing in the ears
- Constant tiredness
- Problems with concentration
Some of the symptoms of whiplash may be less common and others may be similar to those of other medical problems or conditions. It is advisable that you visit a healthcare provider like AlaMed Injury Clinics for a proper diagnosis.
The best way to diagnose and treat whiplash is by seeing a medical care provider. Diagnosis begins with a complete medical history and physical examination. Particularly, an examination is essential for individuals with a history of a whiplash injury.
During an examination, your doctor will touch and move your head, neck, and arms. Additionally, you will be required to move and do simple tasks for your doctor to check the following things:
- Your neck and shoulders' range of motion
- Tenderness in the neck, shoulder, and back muscles
- Extent of movement that results in pain or an increase in pain
- Reflexes and sensation in your arms
Diagnosis of whiplash also involves imaging tests, but the injury may not always be apparent on these tests. However, they are still essential as they help rule out other conditions that could be causing you neck pain. An imaging test in whiplash diagnosis may include:
- X-rays: These are essential in identifying any dislocations and fractures in the neck that could point to whiplash.
- Computerized Tomography (CT): With CT scans, your doctor can spot any bone damage through the cross-sectional images of the bones in the neck region.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Using a magnetic field and radio waves, your doctor can assess the detailed 3D images to spot any bone injuries, soft tissue damage, injuries to the spinal cord or disks, or ligament damage.
Treatment of Whiplash
Whiplash treatment is intended to control pain, restore the normal movement range in your neck, and ultimately help you resume your daily activities. Your medical care provider will formulate a treatment plan guided by the extent of your whiplash injury, age, medical history, and tolerance for specific medication and procedures. That means that treatment plans may range from over-the-counter medication, specialized pain treatment to physical therapy. Below are some common forms of treatment for whiplash patients:
Your doctor may recommend various at-home treatments that are mainly intended to lessen your pain. Some of these include:
Icing the Area
Applying ice to the neck for about 15 minutes every 3 hours for 2-3 days. This helps reduce pain and any swelling in the neck.
Your doctor may advise you to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or naproxen if you have moderate whiplash pain. You may also take pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help you manage the pain caused by the injury. However, it is important that you use these drugs as recommended by your doctor as they can have side effects. If you are taking other medications, check with your doctor whether there is a risk of interaction with the recommended over-the-counter drugs.
If over the counter drugs don't work, especially if you have more severe pain, your doctor will give you anti-depressant drugs that are effective in relieving nerve pain.
Your whiplash pain could be caused by tight neck muscles. Muscle relaxants can be administered to loosen tight muscles and ease the pain.
Injections of numbing medicines like lidocaine (Xylocaine) into the painful areas may help reduce pain.
After suffering your whiplash injury, a day or two of rest may be helpful. However, you should visit a doctor as soon as possible as you risk delayed recovery if you take too long to seek medical assistance.
Besides medications and other at-home treatments, your doctor may also recommend a couple of stretching and movement routines that you can do at home. These exercises may be essential in restoring your range of motion in your neck and could essentially help you resume your normal activities. Such exercises include:
- Gentle rotation of the neck in both directions
- Side-to-side tilting of the head
- Moving your neck towards the chest and back in a normal position
- Rolling your shoulders
In the case of on-going whiplash pain, your doctor may advise you to seek further professional help like physical therapy. Through range-of-motion exercises, physical therapy can help ease your pain, prevent aggravation of the injury and help you resume your daily activities. With the help of a physical therapist, you can engage in exercises to help strengthen your neck muscles, restore your posture and normal movement.
Physical therapy programs aren't standard and will vary from individual to individual. Your physical therapist will create an exercise routine depending on the extent of your injury and your exercise preference. With a personalized exercise routine, you can easily go about the exercises at home to minimize visits to your physical therapist.
Cervical collars made of soft foam are still used in remedying whiplash injuries. Such collars are particularly used to hold the neck and head in position and minimize movement. Cervical collars are still popular despite studies showing that keeping the neck still for prolonged hours may lead to reduced muscle strength hence extending the recovery time.
Despite such shortcomings, cervical collars may help reduce pain after whiplash injury by limiting neck and head movement, which may help patients sleep better at night. Like other forms of treatment, there are no standard recommendations regarding foam collars. Your doctor will advise you on how best to use it for the best results.
Other forms of treatment may also come in handy in the treatment of whiplash injury. While some have not been medically proven through research, they have been tried over the years and found to be effective in treating and managing symptoms of a whiplash injury. Some common alternative treatments include:
It is the practice of inserting fine needles through target areas of the body to relieve pain. In this case, the needles are inserted through the neck area to help relieve the pain in that area.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This form of alternative treatment involves the electrical stimulation of the skin in a bid to relieve pain. This treatment works by interfering with signal transmission by pain receptors.
Like the other forms of alternative treatment, neck massage may be useful in providing short-term neck pain relief following whiplash injury.
This form of treatment involves various techniques of manipulating joints. Chiropractors may work with physical therapists as chiropractic care has been found to provide pain relief when coupled with physical therapy. While manipulation of the spine may cause numbness, it hardly damages spinal tissues and can be effective in treating whiplash injury.
Other forms of therapy such as yoga involve gentle movements and may help reduce neck muscle stiffness and reduce pain.
Call About Whiplash Treatment Today
Whiplash is common with rear-end car accidents, contact sports, falls, and even physical abuse. Due to the neck pain and tenderness of neck muscles, people who suffer whiplash have a limited range of neck movement. Besides neck pain, patients may also experience headaches, back pain, and tingling in the arms. If left untreated, complications may arise. It is important to visit a doctor as early as possible for early diagnosis and treatment. If you've recently suffered a whiplash injury, worry not—we are here to treat your whiplash injury! Contact our injury clinic, AlaMed Injury Clinics, by calling (205) 963-0000 or filling out our online form.