What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury that happens to the cervical (neck) region of the spine upon quick, unexpected back-and-forth motion of the neck. This condition occurs most often during motor vehicle accidents and similar traumas, when sheer momentum causes the neck to make this dangerous and improper motion. Given its name because the neck moves rapidly, much like the cracking of a whip, this condition can also harm ligaments, discs and other integral parts of the spine.
Typically, the neck area of the spine rests in a C-shape. However, when whiplash occurs the neck region of the spine forms what is known as an “S-curve”. This means that the upper part of the neck bends forward (flexion) while the lower part bends backward (extension). Depending on the force of the impact, the lower part of the neck will usually move beyond its typical range of motion. Oftentimes, pain, discomfort and other debilitating symptoms result.
While whiplash is best known as a painful injury incurred during a motor vehicle accident, this condition can sometimes be spurred by other traumatic events. Some of the most common causes of whiplash include:
- Sudden injury or accident, including those sustained during contact sports, physical fights, abuse or other unexpected trauma
- High-speed roller coasters and other thrill rides
- Being forcibly shaken (shaken baby syndrome is also associated with whiplash injuries)
Typically, any situation in which the neck is jolted backwards and forwards may lead to a whiplash injury. In such circumstances, many components of the interdependent spinal structure can become damaged. By taking reasonable precautions to avoid whiplash and scheduling an appointment with one our experienced spine specialists when whiplash does occur, the likelihood of minimized damage and faster healing increases.
Oftentimes, symptoms of whiplash can take up to 24 hours to become prevalent after the inciting incident or original cause. For this reason, whiplash is not always addressed during the medical examination that immediately follows an accident or other traumatic event. When symptoms do appear, they typically include:
- Neck pain that can be dull or severe, and worsens with neck movement
- Neck and back stiffness
- Limited range of motion in the neck area
- Pain in the shoulders or between the shoulder blades
- General irritability and/or difficulty concentrating
- Dizziness, blurred vision and/or ringing in the ears
- Fatigue and/or sleep disturbances
If you or a loved one are exhibiting symptoms of whiplash, it is important to seek prompt medical attention. Only a professional can ascertain whether minor whiplash has developed while also ruling out dangerous internal injuries. Because whiplash shares many of the same hallmark symptoms as a concussion, it is imperative to receive a diagnosis as soon as possible and to ensure your safety.
Our Minimally Invasive Treatment Approach
The hours, days, weeks and months following an accident or traumatic event can be highly stressful. However, at Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, we are dedicated to helping you regain your quality of life through personalized attention and innovative treatments. Through every step of your recovery, our team of Board-certified spine physicians are here to help you achieve a pain-free life.
During your appointment with Minimally Invasive SpineCARE®, we will review your MRI, C.T. scan, X-rays or other imaging to attain an accurate diagnosis. We can then build a customized treatment plan, based on the severity of your cervical injuries, any underlying issues and the patient’s personal goals and needs. Typically, conservative treatments are recommended first, such as:
- Pain-Relieving Medications: If muscles and other tissues have been strained by a jerking movement, oral or topical medications often help a patient obtain relief until soreness dissipates and healing begins. At Minimally Invasive SpineCARE® we also offer specialized medications that can be delivered using ultrasound technology, localized injections or gentle electrical stimulation. These methods of medicinal delivery can provide long-lasting relief, after which time a person’s whiplash symptoms have usually disappeared.
- Physical Therapy and Specialized Exercises: Certain therapeutic movements can stretch and strengthen the neck while restoring a patient’s range of motion. Even patients who experience long-term, chronic pain from whiplash often experience improvements in their symptoms after undergoing a personalized physical therapy routine.
- Massage: Professional massage can reduce inflammation in the cervical region, which simultaneously reduces pain and discomfort and encourages the flow of healing nutrients to the region.
- Heat and Ice Therapy: By strategically heating and cooling various regions of the body, physical therapists are able to optimize the body’s natural healing processes and encourage healing to affected areas of the cervical spine. Heating and cooling therapies are also associated with the lessening of inflammation.
- Rest: Within the first 24 hours after whiplash occurs, a temporary period of rest may be helpful. However, not moving the neck for long periods of time can have debilitating effects. For this reason, long stretches of rest are not usually recommended except for in the initial period following a traumatic whiplash-inducing event.
If these treatments prove ineffective or if the accident that caused your whiplash simultaneously caused additional injuries, then our skilled spine physicians will discuss minimally invasive surgical options. In many cases, our Board-certified spine surgeons will perform a kyphoplasty or vertbroplasty to treat severe cases of whiplash.
In the event that minimally invasive surgery is the best option for whiplash, patients can rest assured that there are several benefits when compared to traditional open surgery, including:
- Small incisions
- Less blood loss and scarring
- Minimal trauma to surrounding muscles and tissue
- Quicker recovery times, including the ability to return to work and other daily activities sooner
- Faster pain relief
For the benefit of our patients, we have several conveniently located spine clinics throughout the Dallas – Fort Worth metroplex. To learn more about whiplash, treatments available at Minimally Invasive SpineCARE® or our team of spine experts, please do not hesitate to get in touch by calling us directly at 972-255-5588 or by filling out the form on this page.
We look forward to helping you recover from your injury, so that you can get back to living the life you love!