Whiplash is an injury involving the neck and head. Rapid forceful back and forth motion of the head and neck is normally how whiplash occurs. Typical it is most commonly found as a result of road traffic accidents and mainly as a consequence of being hit from behind at with force and velocity. It can also be as a result of a sporting injury such as a fall or physical abuse. Those who suffer with whiplash should see a reduction in symptoms within a few weeks of the injury occurring by adhering to a treatment plan that includes pain medication and exercise rehabilitation. In some cases, people will have longer bouts of pain and lasting complaints.
This diagram shows the initial mechanism to a typical whiplash injury.
Symptoms of whiplash
The symptoms of whiplash are often hard to ignore and will develop within days of the injury occurring, they may include:
- Headaches at the bottom of the head that radiate forwards
- Tenderness of the neck
- Pain when moving your head to look over each shoulder
- Pain when rotating the head from side to side or backwards and forwards
- Pain present with decreased range of motion associated with tightness in the neck
- Muscles may feel tense around the neck and towards the shoulder
In rare cases you may also have:
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbance
- Blurred vision
As stated, whiplash is the cause of an uncontrolled forward and backward force on the neck. This motion at high speeds or strong force can cause damage to the bones in the spine, discs between the vertebra and other ligaments and muscles in the surrounding the area.
The three main causes of whiplash are:
Road traffic accident – collision from behind, it the most common cause
Physical abuse or assault – punched/ impact or through other forceful movements
Contact sports – football tackles, rugby tackles and other sports related conditions
Following any injury to the head or neck you should always seek medical advice for appropriate medical clearance. It is important to get an accurate diagnosis to rule out broken bones or other damage that may cause symptoms to worsen and have long term effects.
Treatments and management
Over a short period of time your whiplash symptoms should reduce although to aid the recovery process you should:
Ice packs – place ice packs on the neck to reduce pain ad swelling several times a day, use an ice pack for fifteen minutes for two to three days post injury.
Medication – if recommended by your health professional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs should be used to address swelling and pain.
Heat packs – only if you have used ice for two to three days after injury should you begin to sue heat packs, this should be a warm or wet towel or a wheat bag and should only to be used after the initial swelling has reduced.
Bracing – to aid support of the neck if your recommended to do so, you should use a neck brace or collar to stabilize the weakened area. If you are not advised to do this by a physiotherapist you should be aware that have a negative effect and cause further strength loss to the surrounding neck muscles.
Other treatments– other treatments are available when you see a physiotherapist.