Whiplash – More Than Just a Pain in the Neck

Dr. Kaixuan Liu

A whiplash injury can be more than just a pain in the neck. It may prove to be a pain in the head, back, shoulder, arms and legs, too.

A whiplash injury can be more than just a pain in the neck. It may prove to be a pain in the head, back, shoulder, arms and legs, too. That’s the warning from Kaixuan Liu, M.D., Ph.D., a world renown endoscopic spine surgeon and president of New York/New Jersey-based Atlantic Spine Center, who says the interrelationships between spine, neck and brain oftentimes make diagnosis and treatment of whiplash-related disorders difficult.

“Falls, sports-related injuries and other types of trauma can cause whiplash, but the problem is most often associated with car crashes, especially low-speed, rear-end collisions, in which a driver’s or passenger’s head is jerked backward and then propelled forward – like the action of a whip,” says Dr. Liu, who specializes in minimally invasive spinal surgery.

“Many whiplash victims do not have immediate symptoms, so they will not go to the hospital following a crash or other trauma. Then hours – even days and weeks — after the accident, they begin experiencing pain in the neck, head and jaw. When they finally see a physician, the diagnostic tests frequently show no evidence of injury.”

Patients complain of neck stiffness and pain and sometimes dizziness following a whiplash injury. Headaches also are common problem. Other symptoms can include arm, leg and jaw pain; visual abnormalities; memory loss; difficulty in concentrating; sleep disturbances; even depression.

For patients with relatively minor whiplash injuries, symptoms generally resolve within three months to six months, Dr. Liu says. However, many patients continue experiencing symptoms beyond the six-month mark, and, according to a 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, 25 percent to 40 percent of patients develop chronic pain of undetermined nature.

Some experts contend that post-trauma psychologic stress, which leads to muscle tension, increases sympathetic nerve activity and obstructs blood flow to muscles, is the likely cause of this ongoing pain, but Dr. Liu says the issue is much more complex.

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