Many individuals involved in motor vehicle accidents or high-impact sports complain of neck pain as a result of a flexion/extension injury, also known as “whiplash.” In a whiplash injury, the head rapidly extends forward and snaps back.
In this type of injury, the facet joints and supporting soft tissues that allow one to bend, twist, and rotate may become injured. Radiographic imaging, such as an x-ray, may help to determine the cause of the pain. Like many injuries, whiplash injuries are first treated conservatively with anti-inflammatory medications or physical therapy. In some cases, individuals continue to struggle. In these cases, treatments such as facet denervation or cervical radiofrequency (rhizotomy) is considered (1,2). In this procedure, the small sensory nerves that transmit pain are disrupted with a small heating element in an outpatient setting.
Another common injury can occur to the discs between vertebrae known as disc protrusion or herniation. In these injuries, a portion of the disc ruptures and compresses a nerve which may give pain into one or both arms.
The diagnosis is confirmed using an MRI of the area and is used to provide physicians with a detailed picture of the surrounding nerves and tissues.
Treatment often includes conservative strategies such as physical therapy or chiropractic care. These treatments may also be employed in conjunction with non-opioid medications or epidural steroid injections (3). If pain persists after conservative treatment, spinal surgery may be considered. If pain unfortunately persists after surgery, then more advanced pain technologies such as spinal cord stimulation may be an option.