Conventional Treatments for Whiplash
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs from a forceful back-and-forth motion of the head. During the rapid whip-like movement, muscles and ligaments in the neck become extended beyond their normal range of motion, causing them to stretch and tear. Intervertebral joints, discs, and nerve roots may also be damaged due to whiplash.
Conventional treatments for whiplash
Currently, whiplash is not proven to have a single effective treatment option; therefore, a combination of treatment plans may be needed. Conventional treatment for whiplash typically involves prescription medications, injections, and the use of a foam collar to stabilize the neck. A physician may also recommend physical therapy.
If over-the-counter drugs do not ease pain, a physician may prescribe other medications, which include the following:
- Prescription NSAIDs are stronger than over-the-counter NSAIDs and can help decrease pain. A health care professional may also prescribe a COX-2 Inhibitor, which is a type of NSAID that is easier on the stomach.
- Antidepressants may help if pain is severe. Certain antidepressants have shown to reduce nerve pain.
- Muscle relaxants can reduce muscle spasms and relieve pain associated with muscle tightness. If pain has caused lack of sleep, muscle relaxants may help restore normal sleep patterns.
- Opioid medication may be prescribed for extreme pain. This includes codeine and morphine.
Injections have a better impact on whiplash-related pain when used in conjunction with neck-strengthening programs, such as physical therapy. They are often prescribed to decrease pain enough for physical therapy and exercise to be done comfortably. Three types of injections used to treat whiplash include the following:
- Epidural steroid injection is the most common type of injection used to treat whiplash. A well-trained pain management specialist typically administers no more than two or three injections of a steroid, which is an inflammatory medication. It targets the epidural space and sends medicine to the affected nerve root. This can relieve pain caused by a pinched nerve in the epidural space.
- Facet joint injections, or facet blocks, numb the facet joints in the spine. Facet joints are small joints located between each vertebra of the spine. Pain will likely be experienced if these joints become inflamed with a whiplash injury. A health care professional may give a facet joint injection into one or more facet joints.
- Trigger point injections involve injecting a local anesthetic or saline into the trigger point to reduce inflammation. The injection may also contain a corticosteroid. A trigger point is a painful knot that forms in a muscle that is unable to relax.
A foam cervical collar immobilizes the neck. They should only be used for the first few days following injury, and only worn three hours at a time. Long-term immobilization decreases muscle strength and delays recovery.
Physical therapy can improve range-of-motion and help prevent further injury. A physical therapist treats areas of weakness by encouraging movement. This strengthens the muscles and decreases pain associated with whiplash.