Whiplash, which is medically known as cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome, occurs when the neck and head are suddenly forced backward and then forward, putting the cervical spine through lightning-quick motions and extreme stresses. The abrupt motion can cause injury to the bones and nerves of the neck as well as the soft tissues, including muscles, ligaments and tendons. Most cases of whiplash are caused by car accidents where the person has been rear-ended. Other potential whiplash causes, while comparatively rare, can include assault, bungee jumping, rollercoaster, football, falls while skiing or during equestrian events, and other high-impact activities where extreme acceleration-deceleration forces might be applied to the cervical spine.
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Whiplash can cause immediate symptoms as well as symptoms that don’t show up for days after the injury occurred. The most common symptom of whiplash is neck pain, which can range anywhere from mild to pins-and-needles tingling to excruciating. Other symptoms can include:
- Neck stiffness or reduced range of motion
- Neck instability
- Shoulder and/or upper back pain
- Problems chewing and swallowing
There could also be tingling, weakness, or numbness that radiates into the shoulder and/or down the arm.
How is Whiplash Treated?
The treatment for whiplash typically depends on the tissues – joints, nerves, muscles or a combination – that are involved in the injury. Many symptoms occur when tissues become inflamed following an accident, compressing nerves and resulting in pain and irritation. If whiplash pain or related symptoms are severe and/or do not seem to be going away, medical care should be sought. Some combination of the following treatments could be used:
- Prescription pain medications. If over-the-counter drugs have not successfully managed the pain, then prescription-strength medications, such as muscle relaxants and opioids, could be prescribed under the careful supervision of a physician.
- Physical therapy. A treatment program developed by Dr. Moradian can help improve the neck’s strength and flexibility, which in some cases can relieve stress on the spine and reduce pain.
- Injections. In some cases, an injection is used to target a specific area. Some examples could be cervical epidural steroid injection (to reduce nerve and tissue inflammation from a disc herniation), cervical facet joint injection (to provide relief within the joint), and trigger point injection (to help an irritated muscle bundle).