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Whiplash Guide

Maryann Gromisch RN Guide

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ask: How do I know if I have whiplash?

By Jenny Housh HERWriter Guide
 
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I went cliff jumping while on vacation two weeks ago. I jumped from 45 feet into the ocean and the next few days my neck and shoulders (especially my left side) was painful (and not in the muscle, but in the bone, or so it seems). My neck and left shoulder are still a little sore and it doesn't seem to be going away. Is it possible that I am suffering from whiplash? Or something else? I'd like to have a bit of information before heading to the doctor. 

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Susan Cody HERWriter Guide

Hi Jenny

Thanks for your question and sorry to hear about your injury. Cliff diving does sound exciting though!

Whiplash is a neck injury that includes:

  • Spraining the neck ligaments
  • Straining the neck muscles
  • Bone and nerve injury may be involved

Whiplash can occur with any sudden, violent, backward jerk of the head or neck that can often occur during:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Athletic injuries
  • Falls
  • Assaults

Cliff diving could be considered a fall, albeit a deliberate one and could certainly cause whiplash. 

Symptoms include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Decreased range of neck motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling extending down an arm

 

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms. You will be asked how the injury occurred. A physical exam will be done. Although most whiplash injuries do not show up on imaging tests, your doctor may choose to order some tests to make sure that no other injuries.

Tests may include:

  • Neck x-rays —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures in the neck, especially bones
  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of the bony structures inside the neck
  • MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of bony and soft tissue structures inside the neck
  • CT myelogram —a test that uses dye to better see structures in the neck
  • Electrodiagnostic testing—also known as EMG, test muscles

Treatment

Treatment includes:

  • Heat or ice packs—Talk with your doctor about using heat or ice to relieve muscle tension and pain. Wrap the heat or ice pack in a towel. Never place it directly on the skin.
  • Medications—These may include:
    • Pain relievers
    • Anti-inflammatories
    • Muscle relaxants
  • Neck (cervical) collar—This may be given for short-term or occasional use. It will depend upon the extent of injury.

Current belief is that a better recovery can result from earlier activity including:

  • Physical therapy—therapy and modalities may help strengthen neck muscles and improve neck motion; exercises may begin within two days of injury
  • Mobilization

There is some evidence of the effect of the following:

  • Chiropractic—manipulation of the spine done by a chiropractor
  • Cervical facet injections
  • Radiofrequency neurotomy
  • Pulsed magnetic field treatment

So like any injury, Jenny, the faster the treatment, the better the outcome. I would advise you to see your doctor straight away. 

Does this information help you? Please keep us posted on the outcome! 

Best,

Susan

July 31, 2014 - 9:47am
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