Treating Whiplash: What Patients Need to Know
Car accidents. Falls. Sports injuries. Amusement park accidents. Each of these can lead to immediate injuries. However, they can also lead to longer-term conditions– like whiplash. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines whiplash as “a soft tissue injury to the neck.” Whiplash can compromise a variety of underlying conditions, but neck sprains or neck strains are typically the main culprits.
While you may receive accident care on the scene or in an emergency room, a whiplash injury may not present symptoms immediately. While it’s essential to get timely medical care for your injuries, issues from conditions like whiplash may continue for days or weeks after the incident. Therefore, if your whiplash pain continues, you should consider seeking other treatment options, such as chiropractic care.
In this article, we’ll review the basics of whiplash, including what it is, how it may occur, and how best to treat it.
What is Whiplash?
As we mentioned earlier, whiplash is a soft tissue injury to the neck, often caused by sudden, jerking movements. The NIH says whiplash is generally accompanied by neck injuries that occur due to the “sudden flexion and extension” of the neck.
Approximately two-thirds of the cases of whiplash occur due to motor vehicle accidents. In addition, sports injuries, work injuries, falls, and other incidents may also result in whiplash. The symptoms of whiplash typically develop anywhere from 2 to 48 hours after the incident.
In most cases, patients with a whiplash injury may complain of stiffness and pain of the back. Whiplash patients may also complain of pain extending to the shoulders, arms, upper back, and even upper chest. Two-thirds of patients suffer from headaches, typically stemming from the base of their skull. Patients may also experience nausea, blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, and dizziness.
After an accident of any kind, especially a motor vehicle accident, it is important to be looked at by a doctor. While whiplash may seem minor at the moment, symptoms could continue to affect you for years to come.
Whiplash: What are the Most Common Symptoms?
Whiplash is most often the result of car accidents, high-impact sports or sudden falls. According to an article published in Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, up to 83% of car accident collision victims suffer from whiplash.
However, as we mentioned earlier, whiplash can also result from more unique situations, such as amusement park rides. If you’ve experienced a high-speed injury, it’s important to look for whiplash symptoms following trauma of any kind.
Common whiplash symptoms include:
- Neck stiffness or pain
- Loss of range of motion (ROM) in the neck
- Blurred vision
- Extreme fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Vertigo or dizziness
- Memory problems
- Tenderness in the arms, upper back, and shoulders
How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
Once you notice symptoms and visit a doctor, they will ask questions about the event and your symptoms. The doctor will want to know how well you are capable of performing everyday tasks. During the exam, the doctor will touch and move your neck, head, and arms. The doctor will typically check things such as the:
- Neck and shoulders range of motion (ROM)
- Tenderness in your neck, shoulders, or back
- Reflexes, strength, and sensation in your limbs
- Degree of motion that causes or increases your pain
After the exam, your doctor will do some imaging tests. While evidence of whiplash won’t generally be revealed on these tests, your doctor will likely order one to rule out other conditions that could be making your neck pain worse. These imaging tests include
- X-RAYS: To identify fractures, dislocations, or arthritis in the neck
- CT: Produces a cross-sectional image of the bone to show possible damage
- MRI: In addition to bone injuries, this can detect soft tissue injuries like damage to the spinal cord, discs, or ligaments
What are the Most Effective Treatments for Whiplash Symptoms?
Experienced chiropractors, such as our expert team at Chiropractic Clinics of South Florida, can relieve pain and encourage healing in affected areas. Chiropractors typically use a few different treatment techniques to help patients relieve the aches and pains of whiplash. These include:
- Chiropractic Adjustment: The primary treatment for joint dysfunction caused by whiplash is spinal manipulation. This involves carefully adjusting the joint by moving it carefully into a different position. Spinal manipulation may be done using both short thrusts and slower movements. This helps create mobility and encourages healing.
- Muscle Relaxation and Muscle Stimulation: Muscle relaxation and muscle stimulation is one of the core methods a chiropractor will typically use to treat whiplash. A relaxation and stimulation protocol will focus on treating muscle dysfunction via light stretching and contractions (when appropriate). For very tight muscles, a chiropractor may use a more strenuous stretching protocol. When possible, however, chiropractors will generally use light touches to specific pressure points in order to relieve intramuscular tension.
- McKenzie Exercises: The McKenzie Method is a highly effective, time-tested series of physical therapy exercises specifically designed to treat back and neck pain. Fortunately for patients, McKenzie exercises are also effective at reducing whiplash-related disc derangement. Disc derangement occurs when a disc is irritated or out of place, but is not yet fully herniated. The McKenzie technique typically involves an initial session in your chiropractor’s office. Your chiropractor will then teach you how to perform most of the exercises at home.
- Ergonomic and lifestyle changes: Not all whiplash treatment options involve directly manipulating the spine. Instead, some types of treatment involve making changes to a patient’s daily lifestyle and posture in order to speed up their body’s natural healing process. Many individuals regularly engage in dysfunctional movement patterns at home, at work, or during their free time. An experienced chiropractor can teach you how to use your body more safely and effectively. They may also teach patients stress-reduction techniques to reduce overall muscular tension and promote additional healing.
What are the Most Common Ways to Treat Whiplash?
In general, the objectives of whiplash treatment include controlling your pain, restoring the normal range of motion (ROM) in your neck, and getting you back to your normal activities. To manage your pain in-between visits, your doctor may recommend:
- Rest. If an injury is severe, 24-48 hours of rest is often ideal. However, resting beyond this may weaken the muscle and impair blood flow, hindering a patient’s recovery.
- Heat or Cold. Either heat or cold can be applied to the neck for 15 minutes every three hours to help relieve pain and muscle aches.
- Over-the-Counter Pain Medications. OTC pain relievers, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Advil/Motrin IB (ibuprofen) can often control whiplash pain.
- Prescription Medications. In more severe cases, patients may be given certain antidepressant drugs that have been shown to relieve nerve pain.
- Injections. Lidocaine (Xylocaine) injections can often be used to help numb particularly painful areas. Lidocaine is especially effective used to decrease pain so that patients can do physical therapy more easily.
Every patient’s accident and medical history is different, so it’s essential to take an individualized approach to each and every case. That’s why we at South Florida Chiropractors develop highly specific treatments for each patient. For instance, some patients may benefit more from traditional chiropractic adjustment, whereas others may benefit most from muscle stimulation and heat/cold treatment.
However your whiplash presents itself, rest assured that our chiropractors have whiplash treatments that are tailored just for you. Call our chiropractic clinics to schedule a pain consultation today at 877-881-4878 (HURT). We have 7 locations throughout South Florida in Pompano Beach, North Miami, West Palm Beach, Hollywood, Miami Airport, Miami Lakes, and Kendall. We are ready and waiting to help you on your road to recovery today.