Whiplash is a type of neck injury caused by rapid change of direction. It can happen in any situation where the head is suddenly forced from one position to another. Whiplash is commonly caused by rear-ending car accidents, but it can also happen as a result of sports injury, bicycle accidents or a bad fall.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

1) Neck pain that may radiate to the shoulder, upper back and upper arm
2) Headache
3) Neurological symptoms such as:
– Dizziness
– Weakness / numbness of the arm
– Impaired vision
– Disturbance of memory or concentration
– Mood changes

How long does it take for Whiplash symptoms to begin?

Whiplash symptoms may appear immediately, or they may take several days for the full extent of your injury to become apparent. If you are in a car accident, particularly one in which you are rear-ended, it is vital that you are assessed for a whiplash injury as soon as possible after the accident.

How is Whiplash diagnosed?

X-rays determine if there are fractures of the vertebrae or whether the alignment of the neck has been altered. In most cases, conservative care for the first several weeks is usually all that is needed. Muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medicines, ice, stretching, or physical therapy frequently help. In more severe cases, further diagnostic testing is required to evaluate if structures other than muscle are involved.

Useful tests include electrodiagnostics (to detect nerve damage), musculoskeletal ultrasound (to localize weak, torn, or stretched ligaments), advanced imaging such as MRI to look for surgical injuries, and even thermographic studies under cold stress to look for more specialized nerve pathology.

The course of treatment will vary depending upon which injured structures (ligament, nerve, disk, etc.) are involved. There are several treatment options available, the majority of which do not require a surgical approach and can be very successful in resolving chronic whiplash pain. Examples include trigger point injection s to loosen muscle, prolotherapy (injections to regrow torn or stretched ligament), and regenerative medicine techniques such as Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) to repair injured tissue. 

Whiplash injuries tend to affect all of the tissues in the neck, including the facet joints and discs between the vertebrae, as well as all of the muscles, ligaments and nerves.

Facet joint pain is usually felt on the back of the neck, just to the right or left of center, and is usually tender to the touch.  Facet joint pain cannot be visualized on x-rays or MRIs.  It can only be diagnosed by physical palpation of the area.

Disc injury is also a common cause of neck pain; especially chronic pain.  The outer wall of the disc (called the anulus) is made up of bundles of fibers that can be torn during a whiplash trauma.  These tears, then, can lead to disc degeneration or herniation, resulting in irritation or compression of the nerves running through the area.  This compression or irritation commonly leads to radiating pain into the arms, shoulders and upper back, and may result in muscle weakness.

Damage to the muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back are the major cause of the pain experienced in the first few weeks following a whiplash injury, and is the main reason why you experience stiffness and restricted range of motion.  But as the muscles have a chance to heal, they typically don’t cause as much actual pain as they contribute to abnormal movement.  Damage to the ligaments often results in abnormal movement and instability.

Seek medical care for whiplash as soon as possible

With prompt diagnosis and the establishment of a care plan, whiplash injuries can be minimized as much as possible. Ignoring the damage caused by whiplash can make the problem much worse, and take longer to heal. One in seven people who suffer from whiplash will still experience chronic pain 8 years later.

Don’t put yourself at increased risk of chronic neck pain – call Dayton Orthopedic Surgery today at (937) 436-5763 to schedule a consultation.