Neck Injuries Resulting from Whiplash

Neck Injuries Resulting from Whiplash

Consult a dictionary and you will generally get three definitions for "whiplash." First is the literal meaning: the lash of a whip. Second is something resembling the lash or blow of a whip, i.e. the whiplash of terror. The third and final demands a full-length encyclopedia article: a sudden jerking or "whipping" motion of the neck resulting to what is now known as a "whiplash neck injury."

All appendages of the human body have a limited range of motion-one cannot rotate a finger or toe a full 360 degrees, etc. A whiplash neck injury results from the sudden distortion of the neck exceeding its normal range of motion (medical term: hyperextension). The injury can be caused by a number of things, such as a roller coaster ride, a skiing accident, a sports mishap, falling, or even being merely shaken, hit, or kicked. The most common cause, however, is a car accident, specifically a rear-end collision.

In such an injury, damage is rendered on the soft tissues surrounding the spine, especially the ligaments supporting it. Symptoms include neck stiffness or pain particularly in the shoulders, and cerebral disorders such as headache, dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), problems concentrating, memory disturbances, difficulty swallowing, lower jaw dysfunction, and even blurring of vision. These symptoms manifest usually in latency, after up to 72 hours. Whiplash injury can also affect the brain by causing the organ to rebound in the skull, resulting to inflammation, bleeding, and an increase in pressure that are all aggravating symptoms.

Diagnosis can be achieved through patient history, head and neck examination, X-rays, and medical imaging such as CT scan or MRI. The trouble with determining that the injury is whiplash is with the symptoms a patient would describe a general practitioner would not usually jump immediately to the assumption that they may need to do more extensive tests such as medical imaging, especially since such tests can be costly.

Immediately after the whiplash neck injury until the first 24 hours, decreasing inflammation is the goal and this is achieved by applying an ice pack wrapped in a towel or cloth. The patient must lie down and cold application must be maintained for only 20 minutes at a time.

Subsequent treatment would be administered by an orthopedist depending on the grade of the disorder, from 0 to 4, as defined by the Quebec Task Force. Prescriptions would include analgesics and a cervical collar usually worn for 2 to 3 weeks, or also nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants and muscle relaxants. Heat application on the injured area can also elicit natural muscle relaxation, and physical therapy that includes range of motion exercises is recommended as opposed to prolonged immobilization which, according to recent studies, only worsens muscle pain and stiffness, and may ultimately result to atrophy. Seemingly simple but very important as well, the patient must be made to understand that it is a real injury but there is a very good chance of recovery; not elucidating this may lead to chronic whiplash-associated disorders.

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