I hurt my neck snowboarding. What can I do to make it better?
Unlike skiing injuries, which typically involve torsional or twisting injuries at one of the joints in the lower extremities due to individual leg placement in each ski; snowboarding is dramatically more likely to cause upper extremity or head/ neck injuries due to bilateral foot placement in the same board. One of the most common snowboarding injuries is neck trauma, specifically whiplash.
Whiplash, or cervical hyperextension injury, refers to an injury that can affect both the bony and soft tissue structures of the neck, which include ligaments, tendons, and muscles due to an acceleration- deceleration mechanism at the neck. The most recent literature suggests that whiplash injury may occur as a result of hyperextension of the lower cervical vertebrae in relation to a relative flexion of the upper cervical vertebrae.
The clinical presentation of whiplash can include: neck pain or stiffness, arm pain and paresthesias (numbness/ tingling), temporomandibular dysfunction, headache, visual disturbances, memory and concentration problems, and psychological distress. Mild whiplash injuries can heal naturally within weeks, but if left untreated they can linger and turn into chronic conditions.
Due to the likelihood of moderate to severe whiplash injuries progressing to chronic pain and disability, the importance of being evaluated by your physician and either treated conservatively (ie- physical therapy, oral medications) or non-conservatively (ie- injections, surgical interventions) is significant. If physical therapy is recommended, the aim of intervention during the acute phase is to address pain reports, increase cervical/ neck range of motion deficits as well as prevent chronic disability by a combination of treatments, likely to include: joint and soft tissue mobilization, therapeutic exercise for strength, flexibility and ROM, postural re-education as well as modalities.
It is pertinent to understand the possible ramifications of untreated whiplash, especially in regards to pain free return to winter sport. If you or someone you know is suffering from whiplash associated disorder, contact a sports medicine/ musculoskeletal professional as to facilitate evaluation, treatment and resolution of symptoms.
The author of this article is Molly Foreman, PT, DPT from NovaCare-Northwestern.