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Treating a Whiplash Injury

Neck injuries can cause major problems to your back health. Whiplash, a condition that causes major strain or sprain to the neck and vertebrae, is one of the primary causes of neck injury and problems.

Neck Pain
Image: flickr.com/photos/aidan_jones

Understanding what causes whiplash, how to treat whiplash and what your recovery time will be if you experience whiplash can help you manage this acute condition.

What Causes Whiplash?

Whiplash is a condition where the intervertebral joints, ligaments, discs, cervical muscles and nerve roots may become injured. This injury leads to pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulder pain, lower back pain, irritability, dizziness and problems with concentration. The symptoms of whiplash usually don’t appear until 24 hours after an injury takes place.

The primary cause of whiplash is car accidents. However, any abrupt backward or forward jerking motion can lead to whiplash. Sometimes riding on a rollercoaster or other amusement park ride can cause whiplash due to the sporadic motion — and even engaging in contact sports where you may be pushed or bumped in a rough way can lead to whiplash injuries.

Whiplash Complications

Most individuals do not experience long-term complications from whiplash. Some folks experience chronic pain and headaches following a whiplash injury. The symptoms of whiplash can appear in an immediate fashion, but they often don’t last beyond several weeks.

How is Whiplash Diagnosed and Treated?

Whiplash is a soft tissue injury in the discs and ligaments of the neck, and several steps must occur to diagnose this condition. A doctor will check your ability to function in the affected area in order to see if you have any deficits. Here are a few items the physician will look at:

  • Pain to the touch
  • Range of motion in neck and shoulders
  • Strength, reflexes and sensation in your limbs
  • Tenderness in the affected area
  • What degree of movement causes what degree of pain
  • Posture
  • Ability to move

This type of injury is usually visible on an X-ray. A practitioner could also order a CT scan or MRI to help diagnose whether or not you have whiplash. These scans can also assess how severe your whiplash is. The first step for you is recognizing the symptoms and scheduling a doctor’s appointment to help determine what the cause of the problem is.

Treating whiplash requires a multi-faceted approach. The goal of treatment is to manage pain caused by whiplash, improve range of motion in the impacted area and allow you to return to your routine activities in a short period of time. To manage the pain, practitioners will suggest a number of approaches, including:

  • Ice or heat on the impacted area
  • Rest
  • A series of injections
  • Over-the-counter pain medication therapy
  • Prescription pain medication therapy
  • Muscle relaxants regimen

Other forms of treatment include prescribed exercise regimens that rotate the neck, roll the shoulders, bend the neck forward and tilt the head from side to side. Additionally, physical therapy treatment and foam collar usage may be recommended to manage the pain and heal the injury. Other alternate therapies suggested for dealing with whiplash include chiropractic care, massages, the use of a Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine on a consistent basis and acupuncture.

What You Can Expect for Recovery Time

Recovering from whiplash varies based on a number of factors including the severity of the condition, the health of the individual and the individual’s compliance with suggested therapies. There are three types of whiplash injury including type one, a mild case, type two, a moderate case, and type three, a severe case. The severity of your case will determine the recovery time. Every person responds differently to various treatment regimens.

The elderly population is more susceptible to whiplash injuries and has a longer recovery time. Most people recover in several weeks. However, those with more severe injuries can take up to one year to recover. Staying active and maintaining good mental and physical health can aid in helping speed up your recovery.

Whiplash is an aching injury that can cause pain and debilitation for anyone who experiences it. Understanding the causes of whiplash and how to get diagnosed are the first steps in treating this condition. Staying active and complying with your doctor’s care recommendations can help the symptoms subside.

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