When something causes a rapid and forceful back-and-forth movement of the neck, whiplash can occur. This motion has the ability to injure the disks, bones, muscles, ligaments, and tissues of the neck. Although the majority of people suffering from a whiplash injury will recover within a few months, about 25 percent will not. These individuals suffer disability and have long-term pain that can last years.
According to scientists at Northwestern University, within the first two weeks of a whiplash injury, special Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) allows the scientists to determine which patients will develop chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and disability. Unusual muscular changes involving large amounts of fat infiltrating the neck muscles indicate a rapid onset of atrophy. The presence of this fat is not related to an individual’s shape or body size. Lead investigator James Elliott is an assistant professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He states that these findings show that patients suffering with whiplash have different symptoms and clinical signs. Nearly 4 million Americans suffer a whiplash-associated disorder due to automobile accidents every year.
Symptoms generally develop within 24 hours of the incident.
- Headaches that usually begin at the base of the skull
- Neck pain that frequently worsens with movement
- Pain or tenderness in the upper back, shoulder, and/or arms
- Numbness or tingling in the arms
- Loss of range of movement in the neck
Some people experience:
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty sleeping
- Memory problems
By knowing whiplash symptoms and treatments, you will recognize when you need to visit a physician. Visiting your physician allows you to receive an accurate diagnosis and begin the healing process right away.
Whiplash Injury Treament
For the first 24 hours following your injury, rest may help relieve some of your pain; after that, prolonged rest could delay your recovery.
Ice and Heat
During the initial 72 hours following your injury, you can only use ice. Ice brings the swelling down. At this point, the heat is not helpful because it causes blood to rush to the area, which actually increases inflammation. You can apply ice to the area for 15 minutes at a time every few hours. Make sure that your skin has time to return to its normal temperature before you reapply the ice. Additionally, never apply ice directly to your skin; always wrap it in a towel.
After the initial 72 hours, you can begin to use heat and ice interchangeably every few hours. At this point, inflammation will have subsided and the heat will bring oxygenated blood to the area, helping it heal faster. Professionals recommend 15-minute treatments several times a day.
If you are suffering with severe pain, your physician may decide to give you a prescription pain medication.
You may also be given a prescription muscle relaxer to control your pain and help you sleep better.
If you have mild or moderate neck pain, you may be able to take acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen for your pain.
Some physicians offer their patients an injection of a numbing agent, like lidocaine, into the painful areas of the neck.
Your physician will probably prescribe a series of exercises designed to help you regain your range of motion.
Exercises may include:
- Tilting the head from one side to the other
- Rotating the neck left and right
- Rolling your shoulders
- Bending the neck down toward the chest
Your physician may order physical therapy if you are experiencing chronic pain or need assistance performing your range-of-motion exercises. You may also learn additional exercises designed to strengthen your muscles, restore normal movement, and improve your posture.
You may receive a foam cervical collar to wear. This collar keeps your neck and head stable. It is usually worn while you experience an increased level of pain. Generally, the collar is only used within the first week of the injury.
Contact an Attorney
If you suffered a whiplash injury in an auto accident or due to the neglect of a person or business, you may be able to sue that person for compensation of lost wages or medical bills. Contact our attorneys today for a free consultation of your legal options.