One of the most common neck injuries is diagnosed as whiplash, says Dr. Charles R. Clark, the Dr. Michael Bonfiglio Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery in the UI Carver College of Medicine.
Whiplash, or cervical strain, is a hyper-extension injury to the neck often resulting from a rear-end automobile collision.
When a car is struck from behind, a person's head and neck are usually thrown backward since there is often nothing to stop the movement. This causes an abnormal stretching of the neck's ligaments, joint capsules and muscles, Clark says.
The nature of a neck injury often is associated with the way a person is seated in the car. For example, when the head is turned slightly, a more extensive neck injury can result, Clark notes.
When the head is thrown sideways, the shoulder stops it. And when it is thrust forward, the chin stops it.
Higher head rests in automobiles have helped reduce some of these whiplash injuries. But if adjustable headrests are left down, naturally they cannot help very much, Clark cautions.
Whiplash may be difficult to diagnose since symptoms can show up a day later. That's because it takes time for an inflammatory muscular response to mount, Clark explains.
You can't see the injury on an x-ray as nothing is broken. This sometimes leads people to label the injury as imaginary.
Broken bones eventually heal and the patient feels fine, but the effects of whiplash injury may be long lasting. Prompt recognition and early appropriate treatment are the best methods of minimizing the duration of symptoms, Clark says.
Thus, early diagnosis and physician understanding of both the patient and syndrome are essential to treatment and recovery from this type of injury, he stresses.
Common treatment methods consist of relative rest, judicious use of medications and proper physical exercise, Clark says.
In the majority of patients, symptoms are self-limited, with many resolving by three to six weeks, he says.