From the Mailbag: A listener writes, “Dr. Riley, I was recently in a car wreck and diagnosed with whiplash. What exactly is whiplash? And what should I do about it?”
Whiplash is typically a neck injury that can occur during a rear impact or when you are rear ended in an automobile accident. Whiplash can also caused by different types of trauma or physical abuse. Whiplash occurs when the head is acutely thrown back into flexion. You go back and then forth. This puts a lot of stress on the muscles and ligaments in the neck – beyond the normal range of motion. Whiplash is the damage to the ligaments and soft tissue in your neck and it results in kind of generalized neck pain.
Whiplash can be managed with conservative treatments such as medications along with rest and ice. You might experience just general neck pain throughout your neck and you might have headaches. Unfortunately, you might have dizziness and some blurred vision. Some people can even have difficulty concentrating and some memory problems but those are in more extreme cases.
Years ago you’d see a lot of folks wearing those soft collars like neck braces. But those have been shown to be ineffective, nowadays we know that we want to keep patients moving to a degree. By immobilizing an area for an extended period of time, it brings on weakness and may actually increase atrophy.
Chiropractic care and physical therapy are two very good treatment options for generalized whiplash. A chiropractor specializes in the manipulation of soft tissue and joints and has been shown to be very effective of mobilization of joints and soft tissues to accompany that with some form of exercise, some form of physical therapy.
Typically in mild to moderate cases whiplash should be resolved in three to four weeks. Barring anything unforeseen or any nasty signs or symptoms or other underlying problems, our patients typically resolve in four to six weeks. We have a combination of physical therapy and chiropractic and are able to incorporate some different modalities and different treatment methods we have here in the clinic and it really speeds up the healing.
What we talk to our patients about with whiplash is that we want to prevent residual symptoms. What that means is we don’t want you to hurt in the future. A lot of times patients will come in on their first visit and say hey, is this something that I’m going to have to deal with in the future? Nine times out of ten the answer is no. We’re going to be able to get you moving better quicker and healing faster without pain and increase your range of motion.
In some rare instances where a patient starts to complain of maybe shooting or tingling into the shoulder or down even into the arm, that’s a little more of a serious type injury. We may suspect some type of a disc problem and would want to work them up further with x-ray, maybe MRI to determine there’s not anything underlying going on
If you go untreated, you might experience limited range of motion and you’re not going to heal as quickly. In mild to moderate cases hopefully it’s going to resolve itself. That’s why we always recommend treatment early on so it resolves itself quicker. For the most part you might experience generalized soreness and you may notice limited range of motion with your rotation or flexion extension. You may actually develop scar tissue adhesions and you could lose mobility.
If you have questions about an ache, pain or strain, this is a great forum to get an answer. Just find the question submission form on the right hand side of the web page or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.