What is whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by the neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa. The injury usually involves the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in the neck.
What causes whiplash?
Most whiplash injuries are the result of a collision that includes sudden acceleration or deceleration. Many whiplash injuries occur when a person is involved in a rear-end automobile collision, or as a result of a sports injury, particularly during contact sports.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
The following are the most common symptoms of whiplash. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- neck pain
- neck stiffness
- shoulder pain
- low back pain
- pain in the arm and/or hand
- numbness in the arm and/or hand
- ringing in ears
- blurred vision
- concentration or memory problems
The symptoms of whiplash may resemble other conditions and medical problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
How is whiplash diagnosed?
In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for whiplash may include the following (as many whiplash injuries include damage to soft tissue that cannot be seen on x-rays):
- computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) – a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
Treatment for whiplash:
Specific treatment for whiplash will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the injury
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the injury
- your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
- ice applications for the first 24 hours
- cervical collar
- gentle active movement after 24 hours
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
- muscle relaxing medications
- physical therapy
- chiropractic care
- epidural injections
Up to half the people who experience whiplash will continue to have pain months after the injury occurred. In some people, this chronic pain can be traced to damage in the joints, disks and ligaments of the neck. But in many cases, no abnormality can be found to explain this persistent neck pain.
Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, prescription medications and physical therapy may be helpful.
Most people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, but some people with whiplash injuries develop chronic conditions that can be extremely painful and disabling.
Some of the whiplash symptoms that can develop within 24 hours of the injury may include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Headaches, most commonly at the base of the skull
- Blurred vision
Some people also experience:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Ringing in the ears
- Sleep disturbances