Whiplash injury affects the neck and causes mild to severe symptoms. The sudden movement from diving, bungee jumping or vehicle collisions extends the ligaments in the neck beyond the normal range. Much like the movements of a whip, the head jolts backward and jerks forward.
Within the first day of the injurious activity, the patient may feel intense headache and the much hated neck and shoulder pain and stiffness. Patient complains of not being able to do anything, as much as lift their arms because of the pain extending to the upper extremities and also to the back. These symptoms are considered mild can are expected to be self-limiting within a week or so.
However, there are instances where the aches and stiffness extend for weeks and becomes chronic. Sometimes they disappear and then attack at unexpected moments. The chronic pain causes the patient to feel more stressed. This can also lead to anxiety, that if not prevented develops into depression. Depression is a psychological condition that require professional attention as well medications. Added to that, the recurring pain experienced by the patient may lead him to shop for drugs that may alleviate the pain and the sleep disturbances accompanying the condition. These are considered severe whiplash or whiplash-associated disorders.
How do you know that you have whiplash injury? Aside from the aforementioned signs and symptoms, confirmatory diagnosis can be obtained from several diagnostic procedures. One is the normal x-ray in which the head is positioned in midline. However, the visualization can be limited so the physician might order for a dynamic x-ray. In this procedure, the view is taken with head tilted backward and also with the head bent forward. This way, hidden structures are also assessed. The last resort is the MRI or magnetic resonance imaging. This provides greater view of the affected area but for a higher cost. Also the procedure also poses risk for the patient, especially when he has metal implants within the body. Patients who are claustrophobic or cannot stay still in a tight or enclosed spaced are not recommended for MRI.
There is no single treatment effective to address whiplash injury. The management is multidisciplinary approach using nonpharmacologic, pharmacologic methods and physical therapy. Immediately after injury, a collar must be used to immobilize and support the neck. However, after ruling out the possibilities of spinal cord injury, the neck should be stay still for long.
Sure rest is good, but studies show that assisted range-of-motion of the neck results to lesser chronic symptoms. Slow rotation of the neck can help reduce feelings of stiffness. If the area is too painful for physical therapy, the ache can be soothed by warm or cold packs.
Also, medications are of great help in controlling the pain. However, caution must be exercised especially when prescribing opioid-based pain relievers as they have the highest rate of causing dependency or addiction. For severe symptoms such as depression, counseling therapy combined with pharmacologic methods may address the condition.