Symptoms of whiplash are most commonly experienced in the neck, but can also be felt in the head, shoulders, arms and hands. Neck symptoms include pain, soreness, limited range of motion, stiffness, and spasm in the muscles on the back and sides of the neck. Headaches, pain, numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms and hands can also indicate a whiplash injury. Often times, there is little pain immediately following a whiplash injury, but over the next 2-3 days, stiffness that is often severe and very uncomfortable when trying to sleep settles in. Dizziness, short-term memory problems, anxiety and sleeplessness are common.
The most common cause of whiplash is a motor vehicle accident, particularly when struck from behind. Other acute injuries, such as a collision in a contact sport or a blow to the head can cause whiplash. Chronic neck strain activities, such as holding the phone on one shoulder, are sometimes considered non-acute causes of whiplash.
Whiplash injuries, also referred to as acceleration flexion-extension neck injuries, are most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents. Despite common beliefs, the speed of the involved vehicles does not necessarily determine the severity of a whiplash injury. A whiplash injury is caused by the sequential occurrence of 4 specific phases. In the example of a rear-end automobile accident, the 4 phases are as follows: First, when a vehicle is rear-ended, the torso is forced back into the seat. This causes straightening and axial compression of the cervical spine and extension of the head and neck. Second, the seat acts as a spring board jolting the torso forward as the head and neck begin to extend towards the headrest. Third, both the head and torso are thrown forward. Lastly, the seat belt and shoulder harness stop the torso while the head continues to flex forward until it finally comes to rest.
This series of events places an extraordinary amount of strain on the joints and muscles of the neck and down to the lower back. Symptoms may arise immediately after the event or be delayed and not become noticeable for hours or days. Generally, the sooner after the event symptoms arise, the more serious the injuries and damage to the neck. Recent studies show that in low speed collisions (less than 7 miles/hour), where the bumper is not crushed, the completely elastic collision of the vehicles is much more damaging to the neck. Injury occurs from rapid change to velocity.
Aligned Medical Group’s Approach
After performing a comprehensive exam, our physicians prescribe a treatment plan that focuses not only the neck but also on surrounding areas that are commonly involved in a whiplash injury. Dr. Stutzman is specialty trained in whiplash and brain injury trauma and typically sees motor vehicle collision patients on their first visit. Please request to see him if you were injured and are seeking treatment. Concussion, fracture and tissue damage that requires surgery are first ruled out and we send for diagnostic tests if needed.
The treatment plan may include joint mobilization or spinal manipulation, comprehensive stretches and strengthening exercises for the neck, upper back and shoulders, pinched nerve treatments, massage therapy, electric muscle stimulation, cold laser treatments and ice therapy. We often perform trigger point injections to loosen tight muscles, and for stubborn headaches, we use intranasal anesthetic sprays for rapid relief. Because of the nature of whiplash trauma and the fact that healthy tissues are torn on impact, most patients are never 100% again after a whiplash injury. This is largely due to scar tissue formation throughout the cervical spine region where tearing (sprain and strain) occur, limiting function later on. Our treatments are very specific for whiplash injuries and take you through healing and pain relief and work aggressively to strengthen and stabilize the damaged areas of the body to minimize long-term effects of such trauma. Treatment can last anywhere from 2-18 months for this type of injury.