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Treating Whiplash: How to Treat a Hyperextended Neck

By Last updated on September 16th, 2022September 16th, 2022No Comments

Whiplash is a term that refers to hyperextension of the neck. An abrupt backward and forward motion of the neck, or intense usage, can cause this injury.

Hyperextension of the neck injures the soft tissues and joints of the neck, which are known as cervical facets and are found in the cervical region of the spine.

Causes of Whiplash

Whiplash commonly happens in road traffic accidents, but sports injuries, assault, falls, or chronic neck strain can also be a cause. Whiplash can be caused by automobile impact accidents at relatively low speeds, as reported by this scientific journal.

Some workouts can promote hyperextension of the neck, which can result in discomfort or immobility over time. A medical expert may also classify this sort of damage as whiplash. Full neck circles, inverted bicycle, inverted shoulder stand, the plow yoga pose, and sit-ups with hands behind the back are all examples of movements that might put unnecessary strain on the cervical region.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Symptoms of Whiplash

Hyperextension of the neck can manifest itself in a variety of ways, but the most common sign is neck discomfort. When the neck is utilized for motion, this discomfort is felt along either side of the spine near the back of the neck (moving the head). Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Neck stiffness
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Tenderness along the back of the neck
  • Upper body numbness or tingling
  • Neck ache that travels down the arm and into the shoulder

If you experience any of these symptoms of whiplash following a car crash or any traumatic impact, see a doctor immediately. A full diagnosis will show if any damage has occurred to the neck or spine.

Diagnosis

Hyperextension of the neck is diagnosed via a physical examination of the neck. The doctor will also inquire about the details of the accident that caused the injury. X-rays may be taken if a fracture is suspected. 

There are two types of whiplash injury:

  • Typical Cervical Hyperextension injuries: occur when the driver or occupants of a stopped or slow-moving vehicle are hit from behind. The body is propelled forward, while the head lags behind, resulting in neck hyperextension. Whiplash occurs when the head and neck achieve maximal extension (backward motion) and then snap into flexion (forward motion).
  • Rapid deceleration injury: occurs when the cervical spine is flexed after the head is thrown forward. Although the chin prevents forward flexion, the forward movement may be enough to produce longitudinal dislocation and whiplash. In the ensuing recoil, hyperextension may also occur.

Whiplash-associated disorders (WAD) can be classified by the severity of signs and symptoms:

  • Grade 1: No positive findings from the physical exam, however, the patient complains of neck stiffness, tenderness, or pain. 
  • Grade 2: Reduced range of motion and point discomfort are among the musculoskeletal indicators displayed by the patient.   
  • Grade 3: Sensory impairments, muscular weakness, and diminished deep tendon reflexes are among the neurologic indications that the patient exhibits.
  • Grade 4: A fracture is visible for the patient.

Patients that do not receive medical attention are more likely to develop chronic whiplash-associated disorder.

In the past, a soft cervical collar was frequently used as the first therapy for whiplash. The collar’s purpose was to limit the neck’s range of motion while also preventing further damage. Recent research has discovered that extended immobility inhibits the healing process.

Early range of motion exercises may be recommended if there is no sign of improper spinal alignment. Patients who participated in the early range of motion exercises had a more consistent and quick improvement in their symptoms. The goal of these mobilization exercises is to enhance and maintain flexibility.

Excessive rest and immobility have been linked to an increased risk of developing chronic illnesses. This is due to a reduction of range of motion, which causes discomfort and stiffness. Immobilization also leads to muscular atrophy (muscle wasting), reduced blood supply to the wounded soft tissues, and the damaged tissue healing in a shorter posture, making it less flexible.

To help with recovery, you should also consider the following actions:

  • Ice the neck: Use an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling as soon as possible after the injury. Do it for 15 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days. Wrap the ice in a thin towel or cloth to prevent irritation to the skin.
  • Alternate hot and cold therapies: Use heat pads and ice packs intermittently. Each therapy should be applied to the affected area no longer than 15 minutes per method.
  • Take painkillers or other drugs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), will help with pain and swelling. However, these medicines can have side effects. Never use them regularly unless recommended by a doctor. Check with a medical professional before taking them if you take other medicines or have any medical problems. If over-the-counter medications do not work, prescription pain medication and muscle relaxants may be recommended by a doctor.
  • Steroid injections: These injections at the site of the injury have been shown to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain associated with WAD.

Physical therapy can aid in the strengthening of muscles and the reduction of uncomfortable actions. Occupational therapy can be utilized to assist the patient in returning to work. Massage, for example, can be used as supplemental therapy. When recuperating from whiplash, a mix of noninvasive therapy may be most useful, according to one study.

Regenerative Therapies To Treat Whiplash

In more severe cases of whiplash, regenerative therapies, such as cell-based therapies and platelet-rich plasma (PRP), should be considered. These are less invasive and less painful methods than conventional treatments. Unlike surgeries, regenerative therapies have shorter recovery periods.

This all-encompassing approach to pain management helps the body recover from the injuries incurred during whiplash. At CELLAXYS, we offer two types of regenerative therapies:

PRP Therapy

PRP therapy includes taking a sample of the patient’s own blood and separating the platelets from the other blood components. The platelets are then processed and injected into the injured neck tissues. Platelets are the body’s natural healing components containing 10 Growth Factors to promote the development of new tissues. 

They release chemical signals to attract healing cells from the blood and produce a sticky, web-like structure called fibrin. A high number of platelets in the injury site promote recovery and early healing. 

PRP is a popular treatment for spine and orthopedic injuries, completed within 45 minutes. It is an outpatient procedure, meaning you can go home after the process. 

Cell-Based Therapies

Also known as stem cell therapies, these treatments include taking healthy cells from the patient’s own cells or “autologous” tissues, processing them, and reinjecting them into the injury site. The doctor performs two types of cell-based therapies:

  • Minimally Manipulated Adipose Tissue (MMAT) transplant: It harvests cells from your adipose (fat) tissue and replaces them with the damaged cells. If your doctor suspects the need, they can easily perform MMAT in different locations within the same procedure. 
  • Bone Marrow Concentrate (BMAC): It extracts highly concentrated cells from your bone marrow and reinjects them into the injury site. 

Both types of cell-based therapies are performed within 1.5 to 2 hours. Like PRP, cell-based therapies are also outpatient procedures. The doctor uses live X-rays and ultrasounds to identify the exact location of the transplant. 

PRP and cell-based therapies strengthen the neck’s supporting systems while also repairing the strained and micro-damaged ligaments and tendons produced by the force of the injury. Not only can regenerative medicine beat established treatments, but it also outperforms chiropractic treatment for neck pain.

After a few days, patients notice an improvement, with the biggest outcomes occurring a month after the injection. If the discomfort persists after 3 months, some people have the PRP repeated. Reduced discomfort, increased range of motion, and greater functioning is common outcomes for patients.

Dr. Pouya Mohajer

Director of Regenerative Interventional Spine Medicine
Board certification in Anesthesiology and Interventional Pain Medicine
Fellowship-trained from Harvard University
UCLA Alumni

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