- What is Whiplash?
- Common Causes of Whiplash
- Short-Term Symptoms of Whiplash
- Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
- How is Whiplash Treated?
- Visit a Doctor
The Rush Medical System reports that more than two million people in the U.S. experience whiplash each year. Today, the debilitating impact of whiplash on people’s health and lifestyle is much better known. Whiplash is an injury that anyone of any age can experience.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury to the neck caused by the neck being rapidly forced back and forward one or more times. The sudden forceful movement stretches and tears the tendons and muscles in the neck. The soft tissue damage can be mild or severe and lead to acute or chronic pain.
Since whiplash injures neck muscles and tendons, it is a neck strain. The tearing of ligaments would cause this condition. Ligaments are the connective tissues holding bones together.
Common Causes of Whiplash
Though people tend to think whiplash is primarily caused by car accidents, there are other causes. The most common whiplash causes include the following:
- Vehicle accidents
- Sports injury, especially contact sports like football
- Physical abuse
- Anything else that suddenly causes a sudden jerking motion of the neck and head, like hitting the head hard on something
Short-Term Symptoms of Whiplash
Early signs of whiplash include soreness and stiffness in the neck. In fact, for people experiencing a traumatic leading to a sore neck, whiplash is the first assumption. Pain is likely to develop at some point. However, the pain may not be limited to the neck. Typical whiplash symptoms include:
- Soreness or pain in the neck area
- Shoulder pain or soreness which is referred pain from the neck
- Jaw pain
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Back pain
- Tingling or a pins-and-needles feeling in the neck or shoulders
- Recurring headaches that begin at the base of the skull
- Limited range of neck motion
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears
The neck pain or other symptoms may appear quickly, or there may be a delayed whiplash onset of symptoms. Sometimes, symptoms take days or even a week to appear. In some cases, a concussion may accompany whiplash because of the nature of what causes whiplash.
Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
People who experience a soft tissue injury may experience long-term whiplash effects, especially if the whiplash is left untreated. Some people suffer the rest of their lives with the pain and limited range of motion. Some of the potential long-term effects include:
- Chronic neck pain
- Neck mobility issues
- Degenerative disc disease
- Misalignment of the cervical vertebrae
- Chronic headaches
- Frequent nausea
- Memory loss
- Difficulty concentrating
How is Whiplash Treated?
In many cases, people with whiplash heal within a month by following a doctor’s treatment plan. If pain persists more than a few weeks or a month, seeing a doctor is critical to long-term recovery.
In the past, people wore special cervical collars to immobilize the neck, but research has led to treatment changes. People are now encouraged to gently move their neck and head as soon as they are able. Applying ice for the first few days may help, but the gentle movement is important to keep the tissues limber.
Common treatments for whiplash include:
- Short term use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like naproxen or ibuprofen or painkillers like acetaminophen
- Prescription muscle relaxants
- Stretching exercises like chin tucks and side-to-side head rotations
- Physical therapy
In the more severe cases, the doctor may order traction exercises or injections of local anesthesia.
Visit a Doctor
One of the important things to remember that whiplash symptoms may not show up immediately. It is caused by trauma, and the symptoms can take days or weeks to appear. If symptoms develop and seem to get worse, it is important to see a doctor right away.
How do doctors check for whiplash? The doctor can order a variety of tests to diagnose a neck strain, including x-rays, to detect vertebrae damage and CT or MRI scans to assess soft tissue. A physician can develop a treatment plan that is most likely to promote recovery. If you suspect whiplash, you may request an appointment at our spine and pain clinic.