Conditions and Treatments

Whiplash (Neck Pain)

Whiplash Associated Disorders: Diagnosis and Treatment of Neck Pain and Injuries

Whiplash is commonly thought to be the neck injury sustained from a rear end auto collision. While this is true, whiplash can occur in other types of motor vehicle accidents, as well as with falls, sports injuries, or other trauma. It is the result of a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head and neck with respect to the body.

The injuries to the bones, discs, joints or ligaments of the spine are not always detectable with x-ray, CT, or MRI, because the injuries, including fractures, are often microscopic. These injuries to the neck, back, or other areas of the musculoskeletal system, however, can be quite debilitating. Diagnosis requires a clinician with experience and training in spine medicine and knowledge of the mechanisms of injury and pain from whiplash or from other causes. An accurate diagnosis is required to direct care. This incorporates history taking, physical exam, imaging studies, and diagnostic spinal injection procedures when indicated.

Treatment of neck and back injuries, including whiplash, often requires an integrated approach between spine physicians, such as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialists, and other disciplines such as physical therapy, chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, pain management including spinal injections, spine surgery, and others. Whiplash Associated Disorder is often associated with concussion (see Concussion Facts), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or other cognitive and emotional disabilities, and may require the involvement of a psychologist or the need for neuropsychological testing. There are also psychological impacts from neck pain and whiplash that need to be treated in order to achieve a successful outcome (see The Psychology of Pain). Spinal injections are used for diagnosis and to treat spine conditions or injuries so that pain is reduced and the rehabilitation process can be accelerated.

Evaluation and treatment by a spinal specialized physical therapist utilizing a combination of manual therapy, neuroreeducation and therapeutic exercise is often key to the recovery from an injury of this nature.

View the PowerPoint presentation, below, for additional information on the diagnosis and treatment of Whiplash Associated Disorders as well as neck pain associated with degenerative change and dysfunction.

Some of the basic principles of the spinal stabilization exercises utilized by spine specialized physical therapists are outlined in this presentation.

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