Thanks to seatbelts and airbags, a lot of serious injuries resulting from car accidents can be avoided. Nevertheless, one injury that frequently occurs in a crash – particularly when getting rammed from behind – is whiplash, a rapid forward and backward movement of the head and neck.
How do you know if you have whiplash following an accident, and how can your orthopedic surgeon help?
You Didn’t See it Coming…
The first step in determining if you might have whiplash is whether or not you have had a significant event like a car accident, fall, or sports injury that resulted in:
· Neck and/or shoulder pain and stiffness
· Back and/or jaw or arm pain
If you have experienced a traumatic event and now are presented these symptoms, it’s best to visit your orthopedist to check for whiplash.
At your appointment…
Your doctor will ask you questions about the accident and your symptoms in order to understand more about the severity and frequency of your symptoms.
Next, your doctor will conduct an examination, observing your movement while asking that you perform simple tasks involving your head, neck and arms. This is done to determine the range of motion in your neck and shoulders and the degree to which it causes pain. The doctor will also test your reflexes and the strength and sensation in your limbs. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the doctor may order imaging tests – such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – to look for any fractures, dislocations, or damage to the spinal cord, disks or ligaments.
Pain and Symptom Management
Once the doctor reviews your test results, he will determine the appropriate therapy or course of action for your injury. The goals of whiplash treatment are to control your pain, restore a normal range of motion in your neck, and enable you to return to your normal activities. Based on the severity of your injury, pain management options include rest, hot or cold compression, over-the-counter pain relievers, prescription medication, muscle relaxants, or injections of lidocaine, a numbing medicine.
Also, your doctor will most likely prescribe a sequence of stretching and movement exercises aimed at restoring the range of motion in your neck or – if you have ongoing whiplash pain – physical therapy. Not that personalized physical therapy help you feel better, but it may help prevent further aggravation to the area by strengthening the muscles, improving posture, and restoring normal movement.
What else you can expect
Depending on the injury, your doctor might prescribe alternative therapies in lieu of to complement care. These therapies include acupuncture, massage or chiropractic care. What about that collar that is synonymous with whiplash? Your doctor may or may not have you wear that soft foam cervical collar to hold your neck and head still while you recuperate from your whiplash injury. That’s because recent studies show that keeping your neck still for too long may actually decrease muscle strength and hinder recovery.
Although whiplash is typically not a life-threatening injury, it can result in a long period of partial disability which is why you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. To learn more about whiplash and other ways to protect your spine, call the Spine Academy of Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland at (410) 644-1880, or request an appointment online.