Whiplash Injury: What You Need To Know

What is Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs due to its sudden back and forth movements. Although car accidents usually cause whiplash, any sudden blow or impact that makes the neck move forward or backward causes it. In whiplash, the muscles, tendons, or ligaments of the neck move beyond their normal limits, resulting in overstretching or tearing. As a result, it can be called a neck strain or sprain.

What are the causes of Whiplash Injury?

The sudden back and forth movement of the neck may injure spinal bones, disks (cushions) between bones, ligaments, muscles, or nerves. People usually sustain a whiplash injury in the following:

  • Rare end collision auto accidents
  • Contact sports collisions such as during football may also cause whiplash
  • Physical abuse or assault such as being punched or shaken
  • Cycling accidents
  • Falls in which head violently strikes the ground
  • Blows to the head with something heavy

What are the symptoms of Whiplash Injury?

Symptoms of the diseases usually develop within a day following the accident. Sometimes, they may take a while to develop, though. Whiplash symptoms include:

  • Dull neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain worsens with neck movements
  • Reduced range of neck movements
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Pain or tenderness in the back, shoulders, or arms
  • Headache that starts at the base of the skull

Some people also have the following symptoms:

  • Blurring of visions
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Lower back pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Concentration and memory problems

How to diagnose of Whiplash Injury?

Doctors diagnose whiplash based on the following:

  • Symptoms such as the pain type and place (dull or sharp), tenderness, etc.
  • Medical history like how did the injury occur and when did the symptoms first appear
  • Physical examination to check for the range of neck movements, tenderness, and muscle reflexes
  • X-rays to check for fractures, dislocations or rule out arthritis
  • CT-scan to check for bone damage with better quality X-rays
  • MRI can check for soft tissue injuries, in addition to bone injuries

What is the prognosis of Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash is a relatively mild condition. Most people get better within weeks following the injury. But in some people, it can cause pain or discomfort that lasts months or years even. As a result, the prognosis of whiplash injury is variable and unpredictable.

What are the treatments of Whiplash Injury?

To relieve pain and muscle stiffness following medications may be given:

  • OTC-pain killers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for mild to moderate pain
  • Antidepressants like duloxetine to relieve severe pain
  • Muscle relaxants to restore normal sleep

In addition to medications, other therapies play a crucial role in building muscles strength and restoring neck movements. Doctors will recommend:

  • Rest for a couple of days following injury
  • Apply ice and heat to the neck
  • Maintain a good posture, such as keeping back straight while standing, walking, or sitting
  • Exercises of the neck to restore range of neck movements. Examples include bending the neck downward, rotating it in both directions, and tilting it sideways.
  • Massage can also prove effective.
  • A person can also take the help of a professional physical therapist for better guidance.
  • Foam collars limit neck movements and reduce pain. But they should not be worn for a longer duration as they decrease muscle strength and interfere with recovery.

What is the role of interventional pain management in whiplash?

In some situations, simple management with medications, rest, and physical therapy are not enough and pain continues. So, in these cases, interventional pain management plays a crucial role. The most commonly done interventions are:

  1. Cervical epidural steroid injection under C-arm guidance
  2. Facet joint injections with or without radiofrequency
  3. Myofascial trigger oint injections.