Doctors' Choice Physical Medicine

Whiplash—An Extraordinary Sprained Neck Injury

Pottsville PA Whiplash Sufferers

Whiplash: Is It A Sprained Neck

Whiplash is a rapid far-reaching strain to the muscles and sprain to the larger ligaments to the neck.  It usually also affects small ligaments around the small joints and discs between the vertebra.  It may cause “pinching” or irritation of the neck spinal nerves that can cause pain, numbness, and tingling down the arm into the fingers.  You would be correct calling a sprained neck a whiplash.  But a whiplash is a very specific type of sprained neck.

How Does The Sprained Neck Happen

A rear-end car crash is the most common cause.  The sudden jolt to the neck from the crash happens so fast that you cannot brace yourself.  It a rear-end crash your head accelerates first back and then forward beyond the limits of the muscles and ligaments that hold our bones firmly together (often referred to as a “strain/sprained neck”).

Your neck is very defenseless to this type of injury because your head, which weighs about 12 to 15 lbs, is attached at the top to a flexible neck.  This imbalance causes your neck to behave like a slingshot.  Whiplash injuries are commonly worse in women because women longer and weaker necks.  Older people may experience more extensive injuries because of preexisting conditions, like arthritis.

Whiplash… Sprained Neck Symptoms

The primary symptom is neck or upper back pain.  Sometimes the pain develops immediately.  Most times the pain is delayed for hours or days.  Sometimes the onset of symptoms is delayed days, weeks, or months.  We have often seen patients with neck pain that say their sprained neck happened for no reason or they just woke up with the pain.  The cause of this may be years earlier from a car cash.  We can see the evidence of the whiplash on x-rays.

Even if you do not feel pain after a car crash, you should always be examined by a doctor that can recognize a sprained neck from whiplash.

Each person’s symptoms may be different because of their own preexisting condition and their position at the time of the crash.  A partial list of possible symptoms includes: 

How Is The Sprained Neck From A Whiplash Diagnosed?

Usually by a doctor trained in the diagnosis and treatment of whiplash.  Even when symptoms are not present or seem insignificant, a doctor can take a careful history and perform a neurological and orthopedic exam.  The doctor may order special bending x-rays of your neck.  X-rays may show a change in the curvature or contour of your neck.  A MRI or CT scan to better assess the discs and nerve roots may be indicated when pain radiates down an arm.  When persistent concentration/memory loss is present, a consult by a neuropsychologist is helpful.  A special test, a dynamic EMG, is very helpful in finding the abnormal mobility and muscle function of a sprained neck.

How Is  A Sprained Neck From Whiplash Treated?

In most cases, non-surgical methods are usually appropriate.  If you go to a family medical doctor, typical approaches include a wait & watch approach.  This may be appropriate if you do not have symptoms.  If you do have symptoms he or she may order medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, &/or muscle relaxants.  Although helpful for pain, medications do nothing to help the physical mechanical problems of whiplash.

Some MD’s may refer you to a doctor of chiropractic or order physical therapy.  These types of therapy help the mechanical injuries.  Sometimes the muscle injuries may be so severe that a referral to a physiatrist or a doctor that performs trigger point injections is necessary.  If conservative treatment fails, surgery may be indicated.  Surgery may include repair for persistent disc herniation or spinal fusion.

Chiropractic care and physical therapy treatment may include:

The goal is restore normal pain free neck function.  Care may also include a mix of provider approaches, when appropriate.

How Can Whiplash Be Prevented?

The degree of severity of whiplash can be decreased or maybe avoided completely by:

I know from personal experience that this strategy has helped me.  I demolished my car a few years ago and the only injury I had was a slightly torn fingernail.  I have to credit the airbag.  Another big plus in avoiding a sprained neck was that the impact was from the front and not a rear-end collision.

My passenger had a preexisting herniated disc and he did not even get a sore neck!

It is also makes sense to avoid distractive activities while driving – cell phone use, adjusting the radio, taking your eyes off the road (eye contact during conversation), dosing off, reading a book (this is more common than you think!). 

Important To Know!

If you would like us to look at your driving position in your car, just give us a call and ask us.  We would be happy to do so at no charge.

Doctors of Chiropractic have a unique advantage over other health care providers.  Studies show that spinal manipulation and other manual therapies have the highest levels of patient satisfaction and faster recovery rates compared to other forms of health care. 

If you, a loved one, or a friend is struggling with strained neck or whiplash from a motor vehicle collision, you can depend on receiving a great examination from an experienced doctor trained in whiplash.  The therapeutic approach at this office will encompass all different doctor specialties that may be necessary to resolve your injury.

Want To Know More?

We have a 12-page booklet I authored that explains whiplash, diagnostic tests, and treatment in much greater detail.  If you woujld like a copy, we can send it to you by e-mail.  Just go to “Contact Us” in the black bar above and request the “Whiplash” booklet in the “Message” box.

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Doctors’ Choice Physical Medicine and Rehab

Dr. David Novatnak

Glee Pascual, Physical Therapist

Pottsville, Schuylkill, PA