Following a whiplash, even if you have just experienced mild neck pain or discomfort, it’s crucial to get yourself examined by a doctor to determine the intensity, extent, and overall impact of the injury. During the appointment, your doctor will take your medical history and ask you questions about your symptoms and general health.
Typical Diagnostic Questions
- When did the accident happen?
- When did the pain start?
- Does pain is static or radiate to other parts of your body?
- Have you done anything for your neck pain? Took OTC pain killers? Physical/Massage therapy?
- What decreases or aggravates your neck pain?
Physical Exam for Whiplash
Once your doctor takes a complete history, he will perform a physical exam that usually starts with:
- Observation – He will observe your posture and examine your neck for any misalignment, displacement, or other complications.
- Palpation – He will feel different neck sections to check for tenderness, trigger points, swelling, or muscle tightness.
- Range of motion – The doctor will gently rotate your neck to check mobility and range of rotation.
Once the physical examination is complete, your doctor will have enough information to order a certain diagnostic test(s) that might be helpful or design a treatment plan. He may order some general blood and imaging tests to determine the damage caused by the accident. The common problems that can be detected through imaging tests include;
- Herniated or slipped discs
- Fractured bone
- Displaced vertebrae
- Torn ligaments and tendons
- Soft tissue injuries
If your doctor suspects any of the problems discussed above, he will probably order the following diagnostic imaging tests to learn more and to diagnose the problem precisely.
- X-ray – This is one of the standard imaging tests doctors order after an injury or a trauma. It shows any abnormalities in the anatomical structure of the bones and helps localize a neck fracture.
- MRI scan – MRI scan shows abnormalities of bones and soft tissues. It is quite helpful in detecting potential damage to the soft tissues of the neck, such as ligaments, tendons, muscles, and intervertebral discs.
- CT scan – A CT scan is an advanced variant of X-rays. It also uses X-rays but combines them into better-quality images with a computer. Many delicate bone fractures and tendon injuries – difficult to diagnose through typical X-ray – can be easily detected using a CT scan of the neck.
- Bone scan – This imaging test uses a significantly higher radiation dose; therefore, it is usually not the first choice. However, it can be useful in detecting delicate and tiny fractures.
Once your doctor diagnosis the underlying problem, he will find it easy to develop a specific treatment plan for you. A specific and well-planned treatment plan is what you need to manage your pain, reduce inflammation, and help you recover faster.
Of note, not all types of neck injuries can be seen via imaging tests. Furthermore, an apparent injury detected through imaging tests is not necessarily the source of troublesome symptoms.