Hyperextension of the neck is an injury caused by an abrupt forward then backward movement of the head and neck. This injury is also known as whiplash because the sudden movement resembles the motion of a cracking whip.
Whiplash is typically associated with being struck from behind in a car accident. But any impact that causes the forceful flexion and hyperextension of the neck can result in this injury.
The injury may include trauma to the cervical muscles as well as the intervertebral ligaments, discs, and joints.
The initial symptom of whiplash is often neck pain. The neck pain may begin immediately after the injury or might not appear for several days. Other common symptoms include:
- neck stiffness
- pain that worsens when neck is moved
- range of motion in neck is limited
- myofascial injuries (ligaments and muscles)
- shoulder pain
- back pain
- paresthesia (a burning or prickling sensation)
Commonly, the neck and head pain from whiplash clears up within a few days or, at the most, several weeks.
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Although whiplash does not necessarily show in imaging tests, to look for other conditions that might complicate your situation, you doctor might order:
Following diagnosis, your doctor will put together a treatment plan designed to help you manage pain and to restore normal range of motion.
Treatment might include:
- application of heat or cold
- over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil)
- prescription medications for severe pain
- muscle relaxants
- numbing injections such as lidocaine (Xylocaine)
- a soft cervical collar
To restore your range of motion, your doctor might recommend physical therapy with a professional or stretching and movement exercises you can do on your own.
A child can get whiplash when their head is flung forward and then snapped back in a sports injury or car crash. The diagnosis and treatment of whiplash in a child is basically the same for that of an adult.
Any time you have neck pain — or any symptoms of whiplash — following a car crash or any traumatic impact, see your doctor as soon as possible. A full diagnosis will show if there is any damage that can make the situation worse.
Seek immediate medical attention if you see the signs of a possible spinal cord injury, such as:
- uncoordination, weakness, or paralysis
- numbness in hand, fingers, feet, or toes
- loss of bladder control
- impaired breathing
Also don’t delay seeing your doctor if your symptoms do not go away as expected or if new symptoms appear
Hyperextension of the neck is best known as whiplash. Although it typically results in several days of limited mobility and pain, the symptoms usually disappear completely in a short time.
With any neck pain following a traumatic injury such as whiplash, you should see your doctor for a full diagnosis and treatment plan.