Indiana Jones’ whip is made of strong fibers that can endure the violent force of a high-velocity snapping action — your neck is not.
Although the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your neck can support the equivalent of a bowling ball (your head) while you twist and bend throughout the day, it can’t handle sudden back-and-forth motions that severely stretch and strain those soft tissues — a condition known as whiplash.
Here, Dr. Patrick McNulty, renowned double board-certified orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist, explains how whiplash happens, how long the pain lasts, and how he can help you recover.
Causes of whiplash
One of the most common causes of whiplash is a car crash. It often occurs when one vehicle rear-ends another, and the neck of the victim in the front car snaps forward and back with great force.
But auto accidents aren’t the only way to get whiplash. Contact sports like football and boxing are well-known for causing the neck to snap back and forth.
Extreme roller coasters and other amusement park rides that quickly change the momentum of your body and head can also lead to whiplash.
Any blow to the head or fall that jerks your head can cause whiplash, too, whether you trip over a curb or fall off a bike.
Even physical abuse that involves violent shaking can be to blame.
Symptoms of whiplash
Some people report neck pain immediately after the incident, but many find their whiplash symptoms set in a day or two (or more) later. The most common complaints are:
- Stiff neck
- Neck pain
You may experience only one of these symptoms, or a combination of a few of them, depending on the nature of the incident that caused the injury.
How long do whiplash symptoms last?
Just as the onset of whiplash symptoms varies from person to person, so does the duration. In general, you can expect minor whiplash symptoms to resolve on their own within a few days, or they may last as long as two to three months.
You can help speed your recovery and ease the symptoms by resting your neck for a day or two — but don’t keep your neck immobile for long, because inactivity can exacerbate your symptoms. Alternating hot and cold therapy, as well as over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications can help, too.
In some cases, these at-home measures don’t help, and whiplash symptoms persist for several months — that’s when you know it’s time to come see Dr. McNulty. Other signs you need expert medical care for whiplash include:
- Arm and/or leg symptoms such as tingling, numbness, or weakness
- Blurry vision
- Inability to sleep
- Memory lapses
- Inability to concentrate
- Ear ringing
- Mood swings
These symptoms may indicate a severe neck injury or other medical conditions that require professional medical care. Some studies show that the effects of whiplash can lead to changes in your cervical spine that remain for decades beyond the incident, which is why proper treatment is so important.
How we treat whiplash
At McNulty Spine in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, Dr. McNulty starts by ruling out other possible injuries and diagnosing your condition using the most advanced technology and techniques, including X-ray, MRI, and CT scans.
If you have whiplash, he offers a wide range of whiplash treatments based on the severity of your injury and your specific symptoms. Physical therapy is often one of the most important aspects of your treatment, as it eases inflammation and restores range of motion. He may also recommend prescription-strength muscle relaxants and other pain-relieving medications and treatments to reduce your symptoms and facilitate healing.
If you’ve been in a car accident or any type of incident that snapped your head forward and back violently, don’t risk long-term cervical spine damage. Schedule an appointment with Dr. McNulty at either of our two locations for a complete evaluation. Call or book online today.