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CONTRIBUTED CONTENT — Every year, more than 2 million Americans are injured by whiplash. Although neck pain is common immediately afterwards, some people don’t experience symptoms until a few hours, days or even weeks later. Regardless of the duration or intensity of your pain, it should never be ignored.
“Time is of the essence,” said Dan Corry, physician assistant-certified with Desert Pain Specialists. “After an injury, don’t wait to have your pain and symptoms addressed.”
Whiplash is an injury caused by sudden, forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement, like the cracking of a whip, that overstretches the joints, muscles and ligaments of the neck and upper back. It’s often caused by car crashes but can also result from high-impact sports, physical abuse and other traumas, such as a fall.
Most whiplash victims recover within a few weeks by following a conservative care plan. However, some people will experience chronic neck pain with long-lasting complications like headaches and limited range of motion. These patients may need additional treatment beyond pain medication, chiropractic care and physical therapy, and that’s where Desert Pain steps in.
dr Spencer Andersen, owner and clinic director of the Whiplash Center of Utah, frequently refers to patients stuck in the pain cycle to Desert Pain.
“We choose to send them there because of the attention patients receive,” he said. “I’d rather send patients to a clinic that’s going to treat them the way we treat them, and we’ve found that’s the case with Desert Pain.”
Certain people are at greater risk for severe whiplash symptoms, including older adults, those who previously suffered whiplash, those with pre-existing neck or back pain and anyone whose whiplash was caused by a high-speed injury.
Desert Pain assesses the severity of whiplash trauma on a four-grade scale. Grade 1 patients experience pain and stiffness but don’t present any physical signs of injury. This lingering discomfort may be caused by microtears in the ligaments and muscles of the neck.
Anderson said many whiplash victims suffer non-disc ligament damage. There are 220 specialized ligaments within the spine, and a tear in any of them is a permanent injury.
“If you do nothing, the likelihood of it turning into something severe is higher,” he added. “If you’ve been in a crash, get evaluated and pay very close attention to any symptoms you have that aren’t normal.”
With a grade 2 injury, patients complain of musculoskeletal pain, decreased range of motion and tenderness at trigger points within the muscles of the neck. Along with worsening pain, Grade 3 patients exhibit signs of nerve damage such as diminished reflexes and pain traveling into the arms. Grade 4 patients will likely experience acute pain caused by a displacement or fracture.
For patients with mild to moderate pain and stiffness localized to the neck, a trigger point injection may do the trick. This minimally invasive procedure helps relieve myofascial and muscle pain by injecting local anesthetic, and a corticosteroid if necessary, directly into the target area.
Cervical epidural steroid injections are another minimally invasive option for treating whiplash injury in the neck and surrounding areas. A combination of anesthetic and corticosteroid is injected into the epidural space of the upper spine to reduce both inflammation and pain. Relief can last up to six months, Corry said.
In some cases, imaging is needed to diagnose neck pain that could be caused by a bulging disc, dislocation or fracture. The provider also might order an MRI if the patient is experiencing severe pain or signs of neurologic injury. Surgery is usually recommended if a fracture is discovered.
Without treatment, the symptoms of whiplash trauma can persist for months, years, or longer.
“When dealing with neck pain, it’s always good to get it checked out,” Corry said. “You don’t want to prolong your suffering and find out years down the road that you’ve been living with damage that could have been reversed, but it’s too late now.”
Desert Pain stands at the forefront of treating acute and chronic pain in Southern Utah by offering patients shorter wait times and more one-on-one time with compassionate providers trained in the latest procedures. As the area’s premier interventional pain management team, they practice evidence-based, forward-thinking medicine for all types of pain conditions including back pain, neck pain, sciatica, neuropathy, migraines and sports injuries.
Living with a painful condition is a daily battle against an invisible enemy. At Desert Pain, patients aren’t just treated – they’re seen, heard, understood and supported throughout their pain management journey. Along with providing an exceptional level of care, they collaborate with other practices like the Whiplash Center of Utah to ensure patients receive the most comprehensive care possible.
“We really listen to our patients,” Corry said. “Our patient care and willingness to find answers is second to none.”
Call 435-216-7000 or visit the Desert Pain website to schedule an appointment today.
Written by ALEXA MORGAN for St George News.
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