Conditions We Treat

Whiplash Pain

Whiplash Pain - APSM

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip. Most whiplash pain will heal within six weeks of the initial injury. However, some people will continue to have pain three months following the accident, and a small percentage of people will still have pain after two years.

What causes Whiplash?

The most common cause of whiplash is car accidents. When a car is traveling forward and is suddenly stopped by an impact, the body is restrained, but the head keeps moving forward. Once the head reaches the end of its range of motion, it snaps back. This sudden, forceful, and abnormal movement causes extensive injuries to the soft tissues, tendons, discs, facet joints, and ligaments in the neck. Other than car accidents, whiplash may also occur following any activity that causes a forceful movement of the neck, including:
  • Falls
  • Trauma
  • Sports-related injuries
Whiplash can lead to pain for months, or even years, following the original accident. Whiplash symptoms do not always appear immediately, especially after car accidents. This is why it’s imperative to seek medical care as soon as possible after any accident, trauma, or injury to the neck.

What are the symptoms of Whiplash?

Whiplash may start as general soreness (from mild to extreme) in the neck but can progress. Signs and symptoms of whiplash usually develop within days of the injury and may include:
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Swelling along the back of the neck
  • Muscle spasms
  • Difficulty turning the head from side-to-side or moving it up and down
  • Pain that is worse with neck movement
  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
During this acute phase, an X-ray or MRI can assess the damage. Making sure to get a proper evaluation after an injury is an important part of successful pain management and treatment. In some cases, symptoms that follow whiplash can require immediate, emergency medical attention. Go to the emergency room if you experience any of the following symptoms:
  • Severe neck pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache, most often starting at the base of the skull
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Weakness of the upper or lower extremities
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Depression

What are my treatment options for Whiplash Pain?

Treating whiplash starts with rest and progresses from there. You may use over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and inflammation. Muscle relaxers may help the muscle injury that comes with a whiplash injury. Applying ice to ease swelling and heat to relax muscles can also help to relieve pain. Chiropractic adjustments and decompression therapies can be utilized to help relieve the pain associated with a whiplash injury as well.  Other prescription medications can be prescribed to treat whiplash pain including antidepressants and neuropathic medications. Opioids are not generally recommended for either short- or long-term pain relief of whiplash in all but a very few cases. Once the acute pain phase has passed, physical therapy may be recommended to help strengthen the muscles in the neck, which will help in reducing pain and providing support. Some patients experience chronic neck pain related to whiplash injury. Their treatment options can still include chiropractic treatment, medication management, and physical therapy, but utilizing other interventional treatments, in addition, can help manage severe or chronic pain. Injection therapy is an interventional treatment that is used to help manage whiplash pain. Injection therapy is based on the type and location of the whiplash pain. In pain involving muscle spasms, trigger point injections can provide the most relief, but cervical epidural steroid injections would be a better choice for radiating disc pain. For pain that is related to the cervical facet joints, medial branch blocks would be a good choice. The majority of chronic whiplash pain occurs in the facet joints. In these cases, diagnostic and therapeutic facet joint injections or medial branch blocks have been found to be very helpful. A numbing medication, such as Lidocaine or bupivacaine, is injected along the medial branch nerves of the facet joint. If the patient experiences at least a 50% reduction in pain for the first several hours following the injection, then they are a candidate for radiofrequency ablation of the medial branch nerves. Sometimes a second block will be performed to confirm the diagnosis. Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, radiofrequency ablation can help relieve the pain of chronic whiplash. The medial branch nerves transmitting pain signals are heated and destroyed in order to stop pain signals from reaching the brain. Research has shown that radiofrequency ablation can relieve whiplash pain for up to nine months.

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If you’re struggling with neck, back, or hip pain or any other spine related issues, schedule an appointment with us today to get back to living your life the way you’d like to.

Common Conditions We Treat