Whiplash: causes, symptoms and diagnosis

12 November, 2018

Cervical sprain, colloquially called whiplash, is an injury caused by a hyperflexion or hyperextension of the neck, which usually occurs after a traffic accident. Despite its multiple symptoms, it is sometimes difficult to diagnose due to the lack of objectivity of the results of the medical examination.

What is whiplash and what are its causes

When we speak of whiplash, we are referring to a sprain produced by a hyperextension or hyperflexion of the neck that goes beyond its normal range of motion.

For example, in a traffic accident, the spine makes a whip-like movement called hyperextension: on receiving the impact, the body drives forward while the head is further back and immediately afterwards the body goes backwards and the head forwards. A Hyperflexion can also occur, a movement that initiates when the head goes forward bumping into the chest.

In addition to collision between vehicles, sports injuries or falls from a height can cause whiplash.

Most common symptoms of whiplas

The main symptoms of whiplash are:

  • Cervical pain: this occurs immediately or soon after the accident
  • Limitation of cervical mobility
  • Lumbar pain
  • Muscle contractur
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision, dizziness, and lightheadedness
  • Tinnitus: a perception of hearing noises in the ears
  • Tingling in arms and legs
  • Insomnia, anxiety, and concentration difficulties

How to diagnose a whiplash?

To diagnose whiplash, a thorough physical examination is usually performed, as well as an assessment of the injured person’s medical history and a report describing the accident in detail. Many factors complicate the evaluation, such as the physiological conditions of the patient before the shock, the magnitude and direction of the impact, as well as the exact position of the cervical spine at the time of the traumatic effect.

X-rays and magnetic resonance are some of the complementary tests that help the doctor to determine if it is a cervical sprain. However, their diagnosis is very difficult to determine due to the lack of objectivity of the exploratory data, i.e. the lack of precision in different variables such as range of motion, or muscle tension and contraction. Due to the lack of a reliable and objective technique, professionals sometimes need to be guided by the patient’s own indication of pain, which are not liable to medical verification.

The Lynx device, developed by DyCare, is an innovative solution that aims to approach this problem through wearable sensors that record in real time and very precisely the joint movements of the patient.

Treatment of cervical sprain

In order to avoid movements that could aggravate ligament tears, the use of a collar has historically been resorted to. However, there are specialists who prefer to rescind from this solution to avoid an excess of rest and they only recommend it if strictly necessary. Another recurrent option is to take analgesics and anti-inflammatory medication as ruled by the doctor. This solution can be accompanied by a physiotherapy treatment to strengthen the muscles, improve posture and recover mobility.

Some physiotherapy clinics have already incorporated Lynx into their centers in order to be able to accurately measure the patient’s functional state and assess the evolution and efficacy of the treatment. This is the case of Punto Vital, a medical center specialized in medical-legal assessment in Zaragoza that uses DyCare’s solution to evaluate musculoskeletal disorders related to the cervical.

“For us, Lynx has become a fundamental tool in our daily work, because at the same time that it allows us to show objectively the real mobility of the person being evaluated, it facilitates the study of other parameters such as the repetitiveness of the exercise or its execution pattern over time; information that is difficult to extract using a conventional goniometer and that, for us, is fundamental in order to sustain our valuations and expert reports.”

If you have any questions or would like to try Lynx at your physiotherapy centre, do not hesitate to write to us, we will be happy to get in touch with you.