Whiplash - the name of this disorder sounds like a fancy rope trick performed by a cowboy! However, whiplash has nothing to do with ropes or cowboys.
How Does Whiplash Happen?
Whiplash is the result of an injury that affects the neck (cervical spine). For example, a car crash can cause the head to be "whipped" forward and backward very quickly. These sudden movements can cause muscles and ligaments to be over-stretched or tear. The neck is susceptible to whiplash because it is made to move in many directions.
'C' Stands for Cervical Spine
The neck is made of up 7 cervical bones called vertebrae (ver-tea-bray). Starting at the top of the spine, the vertebrae are numbered one through seven - like this: C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, C6, and C7. The C stands for cervical. Doctors often refer to a particular cervical vertebra (ver-tea-bra) this way.
The anatomy of the neck is complex. The vertebrae are held together by tissue including muscles and ligaments. Ligaments, similar to tight rubber bands, help stop too much movement. In between each vertebra is a disc-like shock absorber. Plus there are many nerves in the neck.
Thanks to joints, the neck is able to move the head in many directions. The neck can move the head from side to side, up and down, and twist (rotate). Amazing - without a neck people couldn't look over their shoulders!
Ouch! And Other Symptoms
Whiplash can cause neck pain, tenderness, stiffness, headache, dizziness, and even blurry vision. Sometimes the shoulders and arms are affected and feel numb, tingly, or painful. Why? Because the neck is connected to these body parts and share certain nerves. However, whiplash does not affect everyone the same. Some people just suffer a bit with a sore and stiff neck.
Is My Neck Broken?
The doctor orders x-rays to make sure none of the bones in the neck are broken. Whiplash is a disorder affecting the soft tissue in the neck - such as muscles and ligaments. If a bone were broken, it would be called a fracture (frack-chur).
Fix My Neck Please!
Along with medication to reduce pain, muscle spasm, and tissue inflammation, the patient is often given a cervical collar to wear. The collar is soft, thick and cushy. Velcro® holds the collar in place around the neck and is easy to put on and take off. The cervical collar holds the neck in a fixed position. It is worn to support the neck while the soft tissues heal.
Physical Therapy: Ahhh ...
The doctor may write an order for the patient to go to Physical Therapy (PT). A person trained in physical therapy is called a Physical Therapist.
During PT, the neck might be treated with moist heat, ice, and ultrasound. Ultrasound creates warmth well below the skin level. These treatments help to speed healing by increasing circulation and reducing muscle spasm. The patient learns special exercises to restore neck movement and strength.
The goal of treatment is to help patients resume their normal activities - as they did before the whiplash. Most people feel much better after a few weeks.