Treating Whiplash From Car Accidents
Car accidents can lead to a variety of injuries. One of the more commonly diagnosed is whiplash, a general category of soft-tissue injury to the neck and shoulders.
In many cases, this type of injury can take a while to develop symptoms. Stiffness and soreness may gradually develop over the next day or two after the accident. It’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible for these symptoms, since they will likely continue to get worse and can develop into chronic pain if left untreated.
How is it caused? Many car accidents, especially rear-end impacts, will cause the head to snap forward and back suddenly. This leads to strain and overextension in the muscles and ligaments of the neck, even at relatively low speeds.
What are the symptoms? Along with affecting the neck itself, pain may radiate into the upper back or down the shoulders or arms. It is sometimes accompanied by numbness and a tingling or pins-and-needles feeling.
In some cases whiplash is associated with headaches. Concussion-like cognitive symptoms, such as confusion, distractibility, and irritability, sometimes develop, and can be associated with poorer prognosis.
How is it treated?
Physical therapy:Whiplash used to be commonly treated with immobilization, usually using a neck brace. However, this is more recently thought to be less helpful, since it can lead to problems with stiffness and atrophy, and to slow long-term healing. Strain from heavy physical therapy may get in the way of recovery, especially if it leads to psychological anxiety, but early rehabilitation is important to promote full recovery. Therapy typically includes stretching and rotation exercises to increase range of motion. This has been shown to promote faster and more complete healing, and to lower chances of chronic pain.
Spinal decompression therapy:Spinal decompression, or mechanical traction, uses a specially designed chair or table to position the patient in a way that stretches out the spine. This is thought to help relieve compressed nerves and to promote healing by improving circulation around the injury. There are varying types of positioning that may be used.
Facet blocks: The facet joints are the connections between vertebrae in the spine, which allow flexibility. Facet block injections of corticosteroids in these joints can be used to numb strain from whiplash injuries. This is done as an outpatient procedure using fluoroscopy, or x-ray imaging, to guide the needle into the joint after local anesthetic has taken effect.Numbing agents injected along with the corticosteroids can provide nearly immediate pain relief. Over the next few days and weeks, physical therapy is generally used as part of longer-term treatment.
Epidural steroid injections: Compressed nerves in the epidural space around the spine are sometimes involved in whiplash pain. Steroid injections in the area of the nerve problem may ease the inflammation that develops.
Trigger point injections: In severe cases trigger points, or knots, may form in the neck muscles. Local anesthetic or corticosteroids are sometimes injected into trigger points to relieve pain from these spots.
Although medical evaluation and definition can be hard to pin down for whiplash, these types of symptoms can be relieved if evaluated and treated right away. An expert in neck pain can help you determine what might work well for you.