Spinal Problems Injuries Whiplash

Whiplash, sprains and strains are soft tissue injuries that, when they occur around the spine, can lead to neck and back pain. “Soft tissue” refers to muscles, fat, tendons and ligaments. Tendons connect the muscles to bones, and ligaments connect bones to bones.

Sprains and Strains to the Back

A sprain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Since so many muscles support the spine, when they’re injured, this can lead to back problems. A sprain can occur when you push a muscle beyond its ability to work, either from sudden overexertion or the repetitive stress of moving the muscles and tendons in the same way over and over.

A strain is an injury to a ligament. Ligaments in the back connect the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. Spinal ligament sprains can occur due to:

  • Awkward bending
  • Poor lifting technique
  • Sudden excessive movements, such as twisting
  • Trauma.

Poor posture increases a person’s risk of sprains and strains, since it stresses and weakens muscles and ligaments, making them more susceptible to injury, including back problems.

Sprains and strains often cause sudden, sharp and persistent pain at the injury site, followed by swelling and often limited movement.

Treatment options for sprains and strains are the same. Generally, to reduce swelling and pain in the first day or two, you can:

  • Compress the injury using special bandages, casts or splints
  • Put ice on the injury for up to 18 minutes at a time, four to eight times a day
  • Rest the injured area
  • Use medicines, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, to reduce pain and inflammation.

After the initial treatment, it’s important to move the injured area to prevent stiffness and excess scar tissue, as well as increase strength. Medical professionals may recommend physical therapy for some injuries. However, you’ll want to avoid placing too much stress on the area too soon, which can just cause further neck and back problems.

Whiplash Injury

A whiplash injury, also called a “cervical acceleration-deceleration injury,” is a combined strain/sprain injury of the cervical spine (neck) that may also cause injuries to the:

  • Blood vessels
  • Bones
  • Esophagus
  • Facet joints
  • Intervertebral discs
  • Nerves.

Whiplash injury occurs when a sudden acceleration thrusts a person’s body forward, causing the head to rapidly whip backward and then forward. This often happens in a car collision, especially when a rear-end accident occurs.

Mild whiplash symptoms may consist of mostly pain and stiffness in the neck and upper back. However, a more serious injury may produce some of the following whiplash symptoms:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness (vertigo)
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Jaw or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) pain
  • Loss of libido
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus).

Whiplash treatment depends on the nature and extent of the injury, and may include:

  • Medication to control neck and back pain, such as analgesics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxants.
  • Physical therapy, which might include application of heat, cold or massage therapy
  • Soft support collar worn for short periods of time over the course of the recovery (Rigid cervical collars are rarely used)
  • Traction for nerve-related neck and back pain, numbness, tingling or weakness.
  • Trigger point injections of anesthetics or steroids.

A doctor may deem surgery necessary if whiplash symptoms appear that are related to nerve damage.


Back Pain Expert Staff. (n.d.). Ligament damage and back pain. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://www.backpainexpert.co.uk/LigamentDamage.html

Eidelson, S. (n.d.). Sprains — Strains — Soft tissue injuries. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/conditions/spinal-cord-injury/sprains-strains-soft-tissue-injuries

Hunter Jr., O. (n.d.). Cervical sprain and strain: Treatment and medication. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/306176-treatment

MD Guidelines Staff. (n.d.). Sprains and strains, cervical spine (neck). Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.mdguidelines.com/sprains-and-strains-cervical-spine-neck

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) Staff (2009). Sprains and strains. Retrieved March 19, 2010, from http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Sprains_Strains/sprains_and_strains_ff.asp