More than two million Americans experience a whiplash injury every year. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries associated with car accidents. Yet, there are other ways whiplash can occur, too. When whiplash happens, it leaves pain and stiffness. And, it doesn’t take as much force as you might think for injury to occur. Additionally, age is a risk factor. Older Americans are more at risk of whiplash and lower back injuries. Preventing and eliminating pain from whiplash begins with knowing what whiplash is and how to treat it.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash is a sudden, but forceful back and forward motion of the head and neck. Going back to the car accident or contact sports scenario, think about the moment of impact. One moment you’re in motion, you’re moving forward. Then, impact occurs causing you to come to a sudden stop that jerks your head and neck forward and back. This sudden, forceful motion can stretch and tear tendons in your neck. Anytime you stretch and tear tendons, your body tries to compensate to protect the area. Symptoms of whiplash often take up to 24 hours before you notice them. You might think you’re fine only to wake the next morning with inflammation, pain, and stiffness. But, symptoms can also include dizziness, blurred vision, and lower back pain as well. It’s easy to think that treating these symptoms will make them go away.
How to treat whiplash and lower back pain
There are many ways to treat whiplash injuries and they all begin with adequate rest.
Anytime you injure yourself, it’s important to rest your body and give it the time it needs to recover. Yet, there is also such a thing as too much rest. Too much rest can lead to tighter muscles from lack of use. So, it’s best to consult with your doctor to determine the best amount of rest time to give your body.
Ice or heat compress
Our first instinct is usually to apply heat or ice. While this might help a minor case of whiplash, a more severe case needs medical attention. It’s also important to rule out a more severe injury such as a fracture. Prompt medical treatment can lessen your pain and improve your recovery.
Over-the-counter pain medications
Over-the-counter pain medications are a great way to relieve minor pain. But, if your pain is more severe, it’s best to seek the help of a pain management specialist.
There are many ways physical therapy can reduce chronic pain from whiplash. The treatments used depend on each person and situation. Not every treatment is right for every person or situation. Some examples of physical therapy treatments include:
- Ice and heat
- Massage therapy
- Gentle stretching
- Ultrasound treatment
- TENS unit (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
- Exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion
Prescription medication offers some relief with pain and muscle spasms. Your doctor may want to check you to determine whether there is a more serious problem to address. This might include medical tests to rule out other, more complex medical complications.
Sometimes, whiplash can cause more severe injuries. Some examples include damage to your spinal joints, the discs in your back, and even nerve roots in your neck. When medication isn’t helping, a steroid injection can offer pain relief. This is particularly helpful if you are experiencing shooting pain in your neck or spine. There are two types of steroid injections offered, depending on the location of your pain.
Your pain management doctor uses cervical steroid injections to relieve neck pain. You’ll receive a caudal steroid injection to relieve lower back pain. Steroid injections aren’t without risk, but that risk is minimal. The procedure is less invasive and your doctor will make you as comfortable as possible. During the procedure, your doctor numbs the area. A dye is then injected to ensure the needle is in the proper location. Finally, steroid medication is injected. The whole procedure takes about 15 minutes.
In rare cases, whiplash with lower back pain also results in a disc injury. If less invasive treatments don’t provide relief, your doctor may consider surgery.
Recovery time for lower back pain and whiplash
Recovery for whiplash with lower back pain varies from one person to the next. Many people feel pain relief within a few weeks. For others with a more severe injury, it might take months to recover from injury. Your doctor is your best source to determine what to expect for your specific injury. If you are experiencing a whiplash injury, with or without lower back pain, don’t delay. Call us to schedule a consultation today.