Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough — Whiplash is caused by a forward or backwards jerking of the head. The most common cause is from being in a car accident. Symptoms don’t always immediately present themselves, but tend to surface at least within 24 hours of the trauma. Soft tissue becomes damaged from the jerking motion to areas such as discs and other muscles and ligaments. The injury may not be detectable on a standard X-ray, but a doctor can perform CT scan or MRI (magnetic imaging imaging) to diagnose whiplash.
Some of the most common symptoms include the following:
- Stiff neck
- Low back pain
- Numbness in the arm of hand that can be painful
- Sleep disturbance
Patients are all affected differently, therefore, there is no one single treatment that works for everyone. Treatment has become more progressive. In the past, immobilization was the number one recommendation which involved making sure the cervical collar did not move. Now, doctors are recommending limited range of motion to the injured areas. Pain medication can be prescribed or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve) can be used to help. Heat and ice are readily recommended. Physical therapy and messages can be used as well. Ultrasound and injections can be done.
The pain and resulting stiffness from whiplash can remain chronic. For most patients, symptoms remain for at least 6 months. This can result in time lost at work, multiple appointments like physical therapy to attend, and inability to perform activities once enjoyed.
Whiplash doesn’t just result from car accidents. A person can fall from a bike or horse. It can also occur from being hit from the side not just forwards or backwards. Just because an injury isn’t visible doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist, and it doesn’t always surface right away. It also is most prevalent in woman than in male. This trauma is classified using a grading scale:
-Grade 0: No physical signs of injury or patient complaints.
-Grade 1: No physical signs, but neck pain.
-Grade 2: Patient experiencing neck pain & signs of a musculoskeletal injury.
-Grade 3: Patient experiencing neck pain & signs of neurological impairment.
Whiplash is the body communicating that trauma has occurred and attention is needed. Being slowed down can be frustrating, especially if the accident was not your fault. Treat the symptoms, don’t ignore the pain, and be sure to wear your seatbelt, a helmet, or whatever type of protective gear can be worn that could potentially save your life and whiplash.