The medical term is cervical strain or sprain. But to a lot of us the word really means “whiplash”. Everyone knows this word. Comics make jokes about it on the late night talk shows. Everyone’s seen the infamous bumper sticker “Hit me, I need the money”. A lot of people think a whiplash injury is made up. People that bring claims for whiplash in the court system are just trying to get something for nothing. They just want money and will recover as soon as the case is over. This is a widely held public perception. However, the truth about these injuries is sometimes just the opposite. True, most cervical strain/sprains heal quickly. Some without any medical care. But these injuries can range from the very minor to the very serious. Sometimes they turn into life long pain problems. Look to another part of the body as an example. Everyone has twisted an ankle at one time or another. Sometimes it feels fine in a few hours. Other times it may take weeks to heal. Some people end up with a permanently weak ankle that gives them lifelong symptoms. The neck is no different. In fact the neck is actually much more complex. A neck injury involves many more nerves, blood vessels and more complex ligament structures. A clear example of this just went through my office. A client injured her neck and ended up having neck surgery. The surgery was a success. Her radicular symptoms traveling down her arms have gone away. But she still has constant pain in her neck. Her surgeon examined her after the surgery and ran the usual scans to see if the bony structures were well healed. He concluded they were. He also concluded the reason she still has symptoms is because of a chronic cervical strain. He advised she’d have this for the rest of her life and was limited in lifting anything over 10 lbs. All due to the cervical strain, not the healed neck surgery. So what makes this cervical strain different than one that doesn’t accompany a neck surgery? Not much.
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