If you have ever been in a car crash and experienced pain in your neck, you have most likely had whiplash. Whiplash, also called neck sprain/strain, is an injury to the structures of the neck. This type of injury is often the result of rear-end car crashes. Whiplash can include injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles and nerve roots. The most common structure injured is the cervical facet joint.
Whiplash, although not technically a medical term, is very real and can be very painful. It is called whiplash because your neck really can whip back and forth—first backward (hyperextension) and then forward (hyperflexion). In reality, the specific biomechanics of this injury are far more complex than this, but these details are beyond the scope of this discussion.
Each year, over 2 million North Americans are injured and suffer from whiplash. It can be caused by:
The key symptom of whiplash is neck or upper back pain. If you have whiplash you might feel:
You may also experience other symptoms, such as:
Pain can start immediately, or it can develop days, weeks, and sometimes even months after the accident. Some people only have a little pain, but some experience a lot. Traditionally, it was believed that most people with whiplash recover fully. We now know that a significant number of whiplash injuries fail to improve without further intervention.
Although whiplash pain and symptoms usually resolve in 6 to 8 weeks, if pain persists or worsens, interventional pain treatments are considered. Cervical medial branch nerve block steroid injection treats facet joint-related pain. Cervical facet joints may be sprained or damaged in much the same way other joints are injured in a high velocity “stop and go” movement.
Cervical epidural steroid injections treat pain secondary to a disc disorder / pinched nerve.
Your physician may perform electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction study (NCT), and MRI to confirm the cause of pain. Electromyography measures electrical activity in muscles. A nerve conduction test (NCT) to studies nerve function.
If pain returns after a cervical medial branch block, then a radiofrequency ablation of these nerves can be considered for longer term relief.