Recently, a truck driver patient of mine came into my clinic complaining of severe neck pain. After a brief discussion, it was revealed that the neck pain started after the patient backed into a loading dock while parking his truck.
The patient reported that he misjudged the distance and hit the loading dock with a lot of force. After performing a physical examination, I reached a diagnosis of acute whiplash for this patient.
Essentially, whiplash is a neck injury that is caused by a rapid and forceful back and forth movement of the neck. This condition gets its name because the movement is similar in nature to cracking a whip. This rapid movement of the neck may cause damage to the muscles, joints, ligaments, discs, and nerves of the neck.
Most cases of whiplash are caused by motor vehicle accidents in which one vehicle is rear-ended. However, certain contact sports such as football or hockey, as well as trips and falls, may also cause this type of injury.
The symptoms of whiplash usually occur within the first week. Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. However, most people experience neck pain and stiffness, headaches, and pain between the shoulder blades.
Other symptoms which may occur include dizziness, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. It is very important that you consult with your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms to rule out other more serious injuries.
After taking a detailed medical history and performing a physical examination. Your doctor will decide if further imaging tests such as an X-ray or MRI are required. These tests will help your doctor determine the source of your neck pain.
Once your doctor arrives at the diagnosis of whiplash, the first line of treatment will be over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Often, these medications are sufficient to control mild to moderate cases of whiplash. However, if these medications do not work, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain relievers which contain codeine. Muscle relaxants may also be helpful in the early stages of injury.
Although whiplash may cause neck movement to be painful, it is important to try and move your neck as much as possible as it aids in the healing process.
One of the most common questions I get asked in my office, is whether to use ice or heat on an injury. The general rule of thumb is to use ice during the first few weeks of recovery to help reduce inflammation and then to use heat in the later stages to relax tight muscles. Whiplash is no exception to this rule.
In more severe cases of whiplash, your doctor may recommend other treatments such as massage, chiropractic treatment, and physical therapy.
The goal of these treatments is to restore normal ranges of motion in the neck as well as to strengthen the injured muscles. Recent studies have shown that a combination of these therapies is most effective. However, if there is still no improvement, your doctor may suggest injections of corticosteroids into the painful areas.
This drug is designed to relieve muscle spasms and pain, which in turn will allow you to move your head more freely. Interestingly, other alternative therapies such as acupuncture and electrical nerve stimulation have shown some promising results in the treatment of whiplash. Cervical collars are no longer recommended routinely. It is now known that immobilization of the neck for extended periods of time can actually impair recovery.
The good news its that most causes of whiplash resolve within a few months. However, in some cases patients will continue to experience symptoms for months or even years after the initial injury.
Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent whiplash injuries from occurring. However, maintaining good flexibility and muscle strength in your neck and back will greatly reduce the chances of getting a whiplash. Performing a regular exercise and stretching routine is a great way to accomplish this.
Until next month, drive safely.
Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.