Whiplash is a sudden movement where the neck and head are suddenly forced backward and then forward, much like the motion of a whip. It happens during motor vehicle accidents or other high-impact events like bungee jumping, contact sports (football, hockey), or falls.
This type of injury puts your neck through extreme stress and can cause long-lasting (chronic) pain if left untreated. It is not uncommon for some people to continue having whiplash-related pain several years after the original trauma. This is a common problem in the USA, where whiplash-related medical costs, disability, and missed workdays cost $3.9 billion each year.
If you suffer from neck pain after a whiplash trauma, we recommend you see a doctor for an evaluation and treatment as soon as possible. Our pain specialists at National Spine and Pain Centers can help you. Click here, to schedule an appointment.
What Does Whiplash Pain Feel Like?
Whiplash, also called neck sprain or strain, causes a sudden change in the normal curve of your cervical spine. Whiplash sheering forces can cause a number of symptoms that may either appear immediately or several days after your trauma.
You may feel:
- Neck stiffness – Your neck and upper back muscles absorb some of the sheering forces during a whiplash trauma, becoming tense and painful. If left untreated, this can become myofascial pain syndrome. To read more about this condition, click here.
- Cervicogenic headaches – This type of headache is caused by whiplash injuries to the bones, nerves, or soft tissues in the neck. This headache is felt on one side only, starting in the back of the head and then spreading to the forehead and eye. These headaches improve once the neck problem is treated.
- Dizziness – Dizziness can start after a head injury that occurred during a whiplash trauma. It is often seen in people with cervicogenic headaches, and can also be a sign of an inner ear injury. Often, the dizziness will improve once the neck problem is treated.
- Burning sensation or numbness in the arms – These symptoms usually appear when a disc in the neck herniates (shifts) and starts pressing on a nerve. The problem can improve with rest, anti-inflammatories, and an epidural injection.
- Memory loss / difficulty concentrating / irritablity – These changes result from the chronic pain, fatigue, or depression that often follow a whiplash trauma.
Click here, to find out more about whiplash.
Will My Whiplash Pain Go Away On Its Own?
Chances are that your whiplash pain will require treatment in order to get better.
According to a Swiss study, 18% of people who had suffered similar whiplash injuries after a car accident, still had pain 2 years later. These people were unable to work at the level they had before their car accident and were considered disabled.
The study showed that people with chronic whiplash pain had some things in common.
- Caught with their head bent at the time of impact
- More likely to have a history of headaches
- Feeling severe neck pain and headache right after the trauma
- Likely to have arm numbness or weakness after the trauma
If you have experienced neck pain or have any of the above findings, make sure to seek care from a pain specialist.
When Should I See a Pain Specialist?
If you experienced a serious whiplash trauma, stop by an emergency room. Some severe injuries, including spinal fractures or spinal cord injuries, may not be apparent to you but require immediate medical care.
Follow up with your primary care physician (PCP) for mild pain. See a pain specialist if your pain is severe, long lasting (over 3-6 months), or not improving with treatment. You can also see a pain specialist immediately after a whiplash injury.
Your initial treatments (overseen by a PCP or pain specialist) include:
- Heat or cold
- Neck brace
- Over-the-counter pain medications
- Prescription medications for nerve pain
- Muscle relaxants
- Neck exercises / physical therapy
How a Pain Specialist Can Help You After a Whiplash Injury
If your neck pain does not improve with the initial treatments, a pain specialist can offer you more advanced treatments such as:
- Trigger Point Injections. Numbing medication is injected into the painful muscles to relieve pain and allow you to start physical therapy.
- Cervical Epidural. This injection places a steroid (reduces inflammation) and numbing medication around a painful spinal disc.
- Selective Nerve Root Block. This injection places numbing medication in your neck area in order to help pinpoint an irritated and painful nerve. It helps determine further treatments and also relieves pain.
- Joint Injections. Whiplash forces injure the small facet joints in your neck. By injecting numbing medication and a steroid into these joints, your pain specialist can reduce the swelling and pain.
- Occipital Nerve Block. This treatment helps reduce cervicogenic headaches and nerve pain in the back of the head and upper neck.
Whiplash pain can stay with you long after a car accident or trauma. Your neck pain may be different than that of other people and requires an individual evaluation and treatment. At NSPC, we tailor our treatments to your unique situation. For an evaluation, click here.