Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

I was rear-ended yesterday. My car was totalled and I got a bad whiplash injury. What's the best way to treat this? I don't have any sick leave at work so I need to get better fast.

Answer:

Rear-end or side-impact motor vehicle collisions are the number one cause of whiplash. When the head and neck are suddenly and forcefully whipped forward and back, mechanical forces place stress on the cervical spine. Traumatic disc rupture and soft tissue damage can occur. Injury to the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints of the cervical spine are common. The first step is to have a proper medical examination. Serious injuries such as bone fracture or dislocation must be ruled out before treatment can begin. If you haven't been seen by your doctor, make an appointment as soon as possible. X-rays are usually ordered before any of the more specialized tests. Special x-rays called flexion/extension x-rays may help to determine if there is instability between vertebrae. These x-rays are taken from the side as you bend as far forward and then as far backward as you can. Comparing the two x-rays allows the doctor to see how much motion occurs between each spinal segment. Whenever possible, doctors prefer to use treatments other than surgery. This can include immobilization, medication (pain relievers and antiinflammatory drugs), physical therapy, and/or chiropractic care. The first goal of these nonsurgical treatments is to ease your pain and other symptoms. Keeping the neck still for a short time can calm inflammation and pain. This might include one to two days of bed rest and the use of a soft cervical (neck) collar. Soft collars should not be worn after 48 hours without a physician’s approval. Studies show that prolonged immobilization can delay healing and promote disability. Physical therapy treatment is focused on easing pain and reducing inflammation. Ice and electrical stimulation treatments are commonly used to help with these goals. Electrical stimulation treatments can help calm muscle spasm and pain. Traction is a way to gently stretch the joints and muscles of the neck. Your therapist may also use massage and other hands-on treatments to ease muscle spasm and pain. The therapist will teach you specific exercises to help tone and control the muscles that stabilize the neck and upper back. Chiropractic care also offers another way to obtain relief of pain from a whiplash injury. Chiropractors adjust misalignments of the facet joints and vertebrae to restore the nerve signals and improve spinal health. Rubén Nieto, BS, et al. Disability in Subacute Whiplash Patients. In Spine. August 15, 2008. Vol. 33. No. 18. Pp. E630-E635.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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