How Facet Disease in the Neck Can Develop from Whiplash
Facet disease in the neck, or cervical regionof the spine, is a condition that most oftenoccurs due to the age-related wear andtear that naturally occurs within the spinalcolumn. However, patients who havesuffered from whiplash may find that theymust deal with facet joint degenerationearlier in life than others who have neverhad a neck injury.
What is Whiplash?Whiplash is a nonmedical term used to characterize the neckpain that can arise after a forceful forward-backward motion ofthe head and neck. This abnormal motion is usually associatedwith car accidents, sports activities, and accidental falls. Thesheer force of the forward-backward movement can injure thecervical connective tissues (the supportive muscles, ligaments,and tendons), which creates a weakness in the structuralintegrity of the spine. Facet disease in the neck, also known ascervical spinal osteoarthritis, can develop as a result, particularlyif the facet joints (the joints that interconnect the vertebrae andallow them to move) have to work harder to compensate for thearea of weakness.
The Connection between Whiplash and Facet DiseaseSome studies have found that individuals who sufferedwhiplash were about 60 percent more likely to suffer fromchronic pain associated with facet disease in the neck. Acapsule around each facet joint that releases lubricating fluid,called a synovial capsule, may becomestretched due to whiplashand the pain receptorsin the capsule may be activated.Long-term irritation to the nervesin the joint capsule canpermanently damage the jointand the surrounding tissues.
What is Osteoarthritis of the Neck (Cervical Facet Disease)?Over time, the cartilage that lines the weakened facet jointscan wear away entirely – and this cartilage deteriorationaround joints is the hallmark of osteoarthritis. Once the soft,smooth cartilage coating has worn away from the neck’s facetjoints, raw bone is exposed. The bone-grinding action thatusually follows is what causes the pain, inflammation,tenderness, and stiffness associated with spinal arthritis.Additionally, bone spurs can form on the affected vertebrae,and these bone spurs may compress the spinal cord or nerveroots, which can cause radiating pain, weakness, numbness,and tingling in the shoulders, arms, and hands.
Treating Whiplash and Preventing Cervical Facet DiseaseThe symptoms of whiplash – pain, swelling, muscle spasms, andheadaches – may not appear instantaneously, so it is important tosee a doctor immediately following any neck injury so that symptomscan be treated before they have a chance to get worse. To preventfurther damage and to reduce the possibility of a patient developingfacet disease in the neck, a doctor may recommend that a cervicalcollar is worn to provide support for the head. The collar can help thedamaged connective tissues heal properly, which can help preventthe development of unbalanced stress among the anatomicalcomponents of the neck. Additionally, cold therapy and anti-inflammatory drugs might be suggested to relieve pain and reduceswelling associated with facet disease in the neck.