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Delayed Whiplash Symptoms: When NOT to Ignore Pain

Ouch! Are you are experiencing neck pain due to a recent injury? It may be whiplash, a very common ailment. In fact, more than two million Americans experience it every year. This neck strain or sprain happens when the head sharply “whips” back and forth quickly with force. The pain you feel afterward can present as anything from a dull ache to stiffness in the neck and lower back. When the jolt to the neck occurs, it can strain neck muscles and tissues such as ligaments and nerves.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, you may feel pain in the neck, back, and shoulders. Whiplash can cause muscle spasms, headaches, fatigue, and anxiety/memory issues. A pain management doctor will diagnose by either a physical exam, CT scan, or MRI.

The most common cause of whiplash is a motor vehicle accident. But any trauma to the neck can cause the condition. Doctors also see patients who are injured doing the following activities:

  • Contact sports like football or soccer
  • Cycling
  • Skiing
  • Falls
  • Blow to the head
  • Amusement park rides

Typically, this acute pain occurs within a few hours, days, or a few weeks after injury. However, delayed or late whiplash is pain that persists months after the injury or becomes chronic. When that initial injury occurs, there are physical changes to the cervical spine and cervicocranial junction (where the base of the skull meets the neck). If those changes are not corrected through proper pain management treatment, the discomfort will persist and can recur or get worse over time.

Recognizing Delayed Whiplash Symptoms

Doctors are researching delayed or late whiplash. While some of the traits may be the same, indicators of late whiplash can often become more serious. Those seeking injury compensation from an insurance company have described these symptoms:

  • Pain and stiffness in the upper or lower back, neck, or shoulders
  • Numbness or weakness in the arms or legs
  • Severe headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Constant weariness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty remembering or concentrating
  • Irritability

These symptoms or disabilities, which present months after injury from, say, a car accident, are referred to as late whiplash.

When a pain management specialist is trying to determine if you have delayed whiplash, you will receive a physical exam and discuss a complete history, including any accidents or injuries which may have contributed to this condition. The way to distinguish random neck pain you may be feeling now, as opposed to whiplash, is that whiplash is, by definition, associated with an injury or trauma to the neck. You would be able to recall the incident that occurred when your neck whipped back and forth, versus neck pain you may feel from sleeping on it wrong or developing a crick in your neck. When describing the injury, many pain management specialists say they often hear a patient say something like, “I never had any pain until I was rear-ended in that accident a year ago.”

While anyone can experience the pain of whiplash, it is more common in younger women aged 18–35 years. It is perhaps due to ligamentous laxity, a condition where your ligaments are too loose. It is caused by the presence of fluctuating levels of estrogen, which causes a loosening in tendons and ligaments, thus allowing for the higher potential of injury.

Every doctor’s goal is to get the patient back on their feet; pain-free. According to the Mayo Clinic, doctors’ orders, in this case, can include rest, applying heat or cold, over-the-counter pain medications, prescription medication like anti-depressants which have been shown to relieve nerve pain, muscle relaxers, injections of lidocaine (numbing medication), range of motion exercises, and physical therapy.

Typically, whiplash resolves with a simple medial branch block, which is a way to disrupt pain signals, or trigger point injections, which can relax the muscles and reduce inflammation. Chronic — or prolonged symptoms start to use higher levels of care like Botox. Pain management specialists may also consider regenerative medicine when dealing with late whiplash in order to restore function to the damaged tissue.

While the verdict is out whether or not late whiplash syndrome is indeed a chronic condition, no matter if you have been injured and you are feeling any pain or symptoms of whiplash or late whiplash, click here to make an appointment with a pain management specialist to find out more about treating whiplash.

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