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Mark A. Wolgin, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon

Specialist (Fellowship Trained) in Spinal and Foot/Ankle Surgery, Albany, GA, Office Phone 229-883-4707

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Whiplash (Neck Sprain)
 
 
The term "whiplash" is a non-medical term applied to the injury that occurs when the natural range of motion of the neck is exceeded, such as occurs in a car accident or a fall.
 
The bones of the cervical spine are connected by soft tissues, discs and ligaments, and these structures can be injured in these types of accidents.
 
 
The symptoms can include:
 

Pain, especially in the back of the neck, that worsens with movement

Pain that peaks a day or so after the injury, instead of immediately

Muscle spasms and pain in the upper shoulder

Neck stiffness or decreased range of motion

Headache in the back of the head

Increased irritability, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and difficulty concentrating

Sore throat

Tingling or weakness in the arms and/or hands

 

 

The diagnosis is made by:

 

Careful history of how the injury occurred

Physical examination

X-rays to be sure there is no fracture, dislocation, or underlying arthritic condition.

 

Certainly there can be more serious causes of continued pain, such as a herniated disc, as illustrated here.  However, in most cases, it is wise to try a period of conservative treatment to see how symptoms resolve prior to ordering an MRI.

 

 

For treatment recommendations:

 

Keep in mind that all sprains and strains gradually heal, with the usual time course of about 4-6 weeks.  Treatment is generally symptomatic, or designed to minimize symptoms while time is passing.  Non-operative treatments include soft collar, muscle relaxants, pain relievers such as aspirin, anti-inflammatory medicines, and judicious use of narcotic pain meds (which can be addictive).

 

For further details, see the section on non-surgical treatments.