Whiplash hurls your head violently backward (hyperextension) and forward (hyperflexion) – injuring your neck. The injury tends to be worse if the neck is turned to the side at the time of the collision. Whiplash is the most common injury resulting from car accidents. Whiplash can cause injury to intervertebral joints, discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerves. Whiplash is often encountered along with concussions and more serious injury. The effects of whiplash can be short term or life long, and can leave the neck forever vulnerable to further injury. The injury can also extend into the shoulders and arms.
Whiplash leads to long-term disability in 10% of people injured in car crashes. Approximately 1,000,000 people are exposed to whiplash injury in the U.S. every year. Nearly 25% of these cases result in chronic pain and disability. Every 1 in 7 whiplash victims will still have significant pain more than 3 years after the collision. Whiplash can be diagnosed with a simple physical examination or through the use of x-rays. X-rays will also be used to identify if there are any fractures of the vertebrae, and the extent to which the alignment of the neck has been altered. After a whiplash injury, your neck’s natural curve may be reversed, which unevenly distributes the weight of your head over your neck, and may further misalign the vertebrae. This condition can lead to arthritic degeneration and recurring pain. If you are taken from the collision to a hospital by ambulance, you’ll probably be put in a hard neck brace and on a back board – as a preventive measure to avoid more serious injury to your neck. The courses of treatment will vary depending on the extent of your injury and if you have injury to intervertebral joints, discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, or nerve roots. For example, physical therapy may consist of heat, cold, traction, cervical collar, trigger point therapy, ultrasound, massage, and neck exercises. Chiropractic treatment of whiplash may be used, in addition to or instead of physical therapy, to realign the neck and regain muscle flexibility. Medication may be prescribed by a general medical provider, orthopedist, or neurologist. Neurological evaluation may be necessary to rule out more serious injury. When facet joints are injured, injections, nerve blocks, and radiofrequency neurotomies may be utilized.