FAQs on Whiplash – Info from the top Pain Management Clinics and Chiropractors in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Gilbert, Chandler
Whiplash is the lay term for cervical strain, which is an injury to the neck related to a car accident or serious injury. This often occurs when a motor vehicle is rear-ended, and the person’s head goes forward and backward in a violent motion.
What injuries or conditions are associated with whiplash?
Whiplash injuries are complex and often associated with other conditions, such as:
- Disc herniation – When whiplash occurs, the trauma can injure discs between the vertebrae. This leads to small tears of the outer disc layer and extrusion of the inner core material. When the gel-like core comes in contact with a nerve root, it can lead to symptoms of shooting pain and numbness down the arm.
- Joint dysfunction – When whiplash occurs, a spinal joint can lose its shock absorption ability, as well as its resiliency. This can cause restricted range of motion and pain of the neck.
- Faulty movement patters – The nervous system may change the way it controls the coordinated function of certain muscles, which results in intense pain from the whiplash injury.
What happens during a whiplash accident?
After the impact or accident, the lower part of the cervical spine moves backwards (extension) and the upper portion moves forward (flexion). This alters the normal alignment and strains the spine and associated support structures. A cervical strain involves the ligaments and/or muscles of the spine, as well as the bony structures.
What symptoms are associated with whiplash?
After the injury, the patient does not usually feel immediate pain or symptoms. However, after a few hours or days, he/she will start to experience soreness and/or stiffness of the neck region. In addition, it is often hard to move the neck in certain directions. Muscle spasms are quite common, and the patient often experiences weakness, numbness, and/or tingling of the arms.
How is whiplash treated?
The treatment options for cervical strain include:
- Cervical collar – Immediately after the accident or trauma, the doctor will recommend a cervical support collar. This soft device supports and immobilizes the cervical spine to prevent further injury or reinjury.
- Medications – Muscle relaxants (Robaxin and Baclofen) are often prescribed for muscle spasms. In addition, the treatment of choice is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ketoprofen and naproxen. For severe pain, analgesic agents are prescribed.
- Trigger point injections (TPIs) – The doctor will inject the neck muscle trigger points with a local anesthetic. Trigger points are painful areas that are painful to touch. A recent clinical study review found that TPIs are superior to no treatment for neck pain relief.
- Epidural steroid injection (ESI) – To decrease inflammation of the cervical spine, the doctor can inject a corticosteroid into the epidural space, which is between the spinal cord and epidural layer. This procedure has an 80-90% efficacy rate.
- Botox injections – To paralyze the neck muscles, botulinum toxin A is injected. This can be used for long-term pain relief, as the effects last for 3-4 months.
- Medial branch block (MBB) – To alleviate neck pain, the doctor will inject the tiny facet joints with a long-acting anesthetic agent. These joints are along the posterior region of the spine. In a double-blind study, patients reported more than 50% pain relief, with effectiveness lasting for around 12 months.
- Electrical spinal neuromodulation – With this procedure, a small device is surgically implanted near the cervical spine. Mild electrical currents interfere with pain signal transmission. According to studies, this procedure has a 70-90% success rate.
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) – This minimally invasive technique involves insertion of a special needle through the skin near the cervical spinal nerves. The doctor uses radiofrequency energy to cauterize and destroy a portion of the nerve root along the cervical spine.