Whiplash is a neck injury that occurs when the head is forcefully snapped back and forth. Whiplash is a common consequence of rear-end auto crashes, but the injury can also occur while playing sports, experiencing trauma, or during an assault. If the head snaps for any reason, whiplash can be a painful result.
Symptoms of Whiplash
The common symptoms of whiplash include neck stiffness, headaches, and neck pain. Sometimes, the symptoms don’t manifest until days, weeks, or even months after the incident. While most people recover from whiplash in a matter of months while taking pain medication, exercising, and undergoing other treatments, a small percentage of whiplash victims experience ongoing issues.
Other symptoms of whiplash include:
- Pain that worsens with neck movement
- Loss of range of motion
- Numbness and tingling in the arms
- Tenderness in the upper back, upper arms, or shoulders
- Headaches that start from the base of the skull
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Ringing in the ears
- Memory issues
If you have been in an accident that caused your head to snap back and forth very quickly and you experience some of these symptoms, you need to see a doctor. Treatment can result in pain relief, but can also rule out other severe issues, like fractures or tissue damage.
When seeing a doctor over suspected whiplash, an x-ray will be performed. CT scans and MRIs may be used to look at damage to muscles, discs, and ligaments that could be contributing to the pain. A full workup will be performed to make sure every issue is identified so the right treatment can be administered. Because multiple issues can exist, a multistep treatment plan may be needed to accommodate each injury.
There is actually no scientifically proven treatment for whiplash. The only type of treatment that has been proven is the use of anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and relieve pain. However, traction, physical therapy, massage, heat and ice, and injections to the affected area have been helpful for various groups of patients. Because whiplash can be unpredictable, one treatment may not work for everyone. It’s all about trial and error based on the severity of the whiplash.
It is also ideal to start early movement instead of immobilizing the neck. Ice is recommended in the first 24 hours after the injury, followed by slight movement. The condition seems to heal faster when progressive movement is encouraged after the first 24 hours. Once the acute symptoms are gone, you will most likely start rehabilitation. The idea is to make your neck muscles stronger so that you can fully recover and reduce your risk of future neck strain.
Surgery may be needed in some cases. There are times when whiplash is so severe that there is additional damage in the neck. By surgically rectifying these issues, the neck can better heal and people can resume their regular daily activities. Surgery is only recommended in very severe cases since whiplash usually heals on its own with some medical intervention.