Whiplash is a nonmedical term used to describe neck pain following an injury to the soft tissues of the neck (specifically ligaments, tendons, and muscles). It is caused by an abnormal motion or force applied to the neck that causes movement beyond the neck’s normal range of motion. It is usually caused by a flexion-extension motion of the neck that pulls and strains the neck muscles and ligaments.
Whiplash happens in motor vehicle accidents, sporting activities, accidental falls, and assault, in which your head is forced suddenly forward and then backward. Other names for whiplash include acceleration flexion-extension neck injury and soft tissue cervical hyperextension injury. A doctor may use more specific terms, such as cervical sprain, cervical strain, or hyperextension injury.
The symptoms of whiplash generally include some neck pain and muscle stiffness. Signs and symptoms may also include:
- Neck swelling,
- Muscle spasms in the posterior cervical spine (back of the neck), anterior cervical spine (front of the neck), or in the trapezius muscles (back of the shoulders),
- Difficulty flexing, extending, or rotating the head,
- Headache difficulty concentrating, sleeping, and/or fatigue ,
- Jaw tightness or difficulty chewing,
- Severe cases of whiplash may also cause vision disturbance, ringing in the ears, and other signs of nerve irritation.
The doctor will inspect the patient’s head and neck for external signs of trauma including bruises, cuts, and abrasions. The patient’s neck will be pressed in specific areas to be sure the patient does not perceive any pain or tenderness. The patient may be asked to move their neck in a controlled way to the left, right, up, and down. The patient should tell the doctor if they feel pain in the neck, numbness, or tingling in any of the arms or legs, or any other abnormal feelings during these maneuvers.
If the patient needs X-rays of the neck to make sure there are no fractures or signs of other serious injury, the collar will remain in place to stabilize the neck. If the patient’s X-rays are normal, then the cervical collar will probably be removed, and the patient should not need any further X-rays. If the X-rays appear abnormal, further imaging with a CT scan or an MRI may be ordered.
Your doctor may prescribe a treatment plan including:
- Pain medications (over-the-counter or prescription).
- Narcotic pain medication may be necessary with severe whiplash.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) should be part of the treatment if the patient is able to take them.
- Muscle relaxers.
- Benzodiazapine medications (Valium) may help muscle tightness and spasm.
- Other muscle relaxer drugs may also be used.
- A cervical collar may be used for the first few days, but use should be limited to the time period prescribed.
- Cold packs or ice can be applied to the neck to minimize swelling and pain. Apply ice/cold to the neck area for 15-20 minutes. Repeat every hour, as needed, for the first 48-72 hours after the injury.
- Limit motion of the head and neck until pain and muscle tightness are gone.
- Limit strenuous activities such as sports or heavy lifting.
- Physical therapy with range of motion exercises, muscle strengthening, ultrasound, or electrical stimulation may be prescribed.
- Non-traditional medical treatments such as chiropractic, massage, or acupuncture may be helpful for some patients in the treatment of whiplash.
Follow-up care may include physical therapy, home exercises, or a visit to a specialist.
Attorney Chelsie M. Lamie is a personal injury attorney located in Safety Harbor, Florida. If you or a loved one have been injured in a car accident or slip and fall accident, please call 727-501-3464 for a free consultation. You can also learn more about Attorney Lamie at www.chelsielamie.com.