Whiplash is a very common injury to the soft tissues of the neck that can happen when the neck suddenly moves backward and then forward. The soft tissues that can be involved in a whiplash injury include the ligaments and the muscles of the neck that support the head and hold it erect. The most common reasons for whiplash include motor vehicle accidents, sporting injuries, or falls from a height.
People with whiplash may have neck pain, stiffness, and tightness radiating from the head out into the shoulders and upper back. Whiplash can range from mild to severe. However, most people with whiplash usually recover completely within a few weeks. If your pain is not getting better after a few weeks, you may need to see a spinal specialist who may order spinal imaging (starting with an x-ray) or prescribe treatments including therapies, exercises, and medications to improve your symptoms.
Since whiplash injures the soft tissues of the neck, and not the bones, x-rays are not routinely ordered in the emergency room. If caused by a car accident of high velocity, trauma x-rays of you lying down are usually taken. At the office, it is standard for us to obtain standing x-rays of your neck to evaluate.
Most of the time whiplash does not lead to long-term neck problems and people with whiplash do not usually have trouble with degenerative changes or arthritis in their neck once they are healed. In the short term, medications are commonly used to calm down inflammation, reduce muscle spasms and control pain. A soft neck collar may be used for comfort. Physical therapy is helpful to reduce muscular spasms and restore range of motion. If you experience prolonged pain related to whiplash it is imperative to have a spinal specialist examine your condition and assess the most effective treatment to decrease pain and restore function.