HEALTH ENCYCLOPEDIA

Diseases & Conditions A - Z
powered by Talix

Whiplash

whiplash

Whiplash occurs when a person’s head moves backward and then forward suddenly with great force. This injury is most common following a rear-end car collision. It can also result from physical abuse, sports injuries, or amusement park rides.

Whiplash results when the soft tissues (the muscles and ligaments) of your neck extend beyond their typical range of motion. Your symptoms might not appear for a while, so it’s important to pay attention to any physical changes for a few days following any accident.

Whiplash is thought of as a relatively mild condition, but it can cause long-term pain and discomfort.

How do whiplash injuries occur?

Whiplash occurs when the muscles in your neck suffer a strain because of a rapid movement backward and then forward. The sudden motion causes your neck’s tendons and ligaments to stretch and tear, resulting in whiplash.

Some things that can cause whiplash include:

  • car accidents
  • physical abuse, such as being punched or shaken
  • contact sports such as football, boxing, and karate
  • horseback riding
  • cycling accidents
  • falls in which the head violently jerks backward
  • blows to the head with a heavy object

What does whiplash feel like?

Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours after the incident that caused the whiplash. Sometimes, symptoms may develop after a few days. They can last for several weeks.

Common symptoms include:

  • neck pain and stiffness
  • headaches, specifically at the base of the skull
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • constant weariness

Less common symptoms associated with chronic whiplash include:

  • problems with concentration and memory
  • ringing in the ears
  • inability to sleep well
  • irritability
  • chronic pain in the neck, shoulders, or head

You should follow up with your doctor immediately if:

  • your symptoms spread to your shoulders or arms
  • moving your head is painful
  • you have numbness or weakness in your arms

How is whiplash diagnosed?

Most mild to moderate cases of whiplash can be treated at home using over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, ice, and other remedies. However, you should seek medical help if you have the following symptoms:

  • pain or stiffness in the neck that goes away and then returns
  • severe neck pain
  • pain, numbness, or tingling in your shoulders, arms, or legs
  • any issues with your bladder or bowels
  • localized weakness in an arm or leg

Your doctor will normally ask you questions about your injury, such as how it occurred, where you feel pain, and whether the pain is dull, shooting, or sharp. They may also do a physical exam to check your range of motion and look for areas of tenderness.

Your doctor might order an X-ray to ensure your pain isn’t connected to any other type of injury or degenerative disease such as arthritis.

Other tests, such as CT scans and MRI, will allow your doctor to assess any damage or inflammation in the soft tissues, spinal cord, or nerves. Certain imaging studies, such as diffuse tensor imaging (DTI) or positron emission tomography (PET scan), may be helpful, especially when there may be a brain injury. These tests will help localize and measure the extent of an injury to the brain or other areas.

Treatment for whiplash

The treatments for whiplash are relatively simple. Doctors will often prescribe an OTC pain medication like Tylenol or aspirin. More severe injuries may require prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants to reduce muscle spasms.

In addition to medication, physical therapy plays a crucial role in recovery. You may want to apply ice or heat to the injured area and practice simple exercises to build strength and flexibility in your neck. Practice good posture and learn relaxation techniques to keep your neck muscles from straining and to help with recovery.

You might also be given a foam collar to keep your neck stable. Collars should not be worn for more than three hours at a time. They should only be used the first couple of days after your injury, as well.

Alternative remedies

You may also want to try alternative remedies to treat pain. Some include:

Complications associated with whiplash

Some people with whiplash do experience chronic pain or headaches for years following their accident. Doctors may be able to trace this pain to damaged neck joints, disks, and ligaments. But chronic pain following a whiplash injury typically has no medical explanation.

However, very few people have any long-term complications from whiplash. Usually, recovery time is anywhere from a few days to several weeks. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, most people recover fully within three months.


Content licensed from:

Written by: Shannon Johnson
Medically reviewed on: Apr 11, 2017: William Morrison, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
health
TOOLS
Symptom Search
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Drug Interaction Checker
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Pill Identifier
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Drugs A-Z
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
Advertisement

 

 

Advertisement