Simply put, whiplash injuries are neck sprains.
A whiplash injury occurs when the neck and head are suddenly forced backward and forward, extending the delicate tissues of your neck beyond their usual range of motion and putting your spine through extreme stress.
Though considered a mild condition, whiplash can cause long-term pain and discomfort if left untreated.
What causes a whiplash injury?
Medically known as cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD), whiplash injuries are often caused by rear-end car accidents when a person’s head moves backward and then forward suddenly with great force. Other causes of whiplash injuries, though uncommon, include sports like rollercoasters, bungee jumping, football, falls while skiing, and other high-impact activities where extreme acceleration-deceleration forces act on the cervical spine.
What are some of the common symptoms associated with a whiplash injury?
Some common symptoms of whiplash include:
- Pain, stiffness or swelling in the neck.
- Pain while moving neck.
- Loss of motion or restricted motion in the neck.
- Headaches often starting at the base of the skull.
- Numbness, tenderness, or pain in shoulders, arms, or upper back.
- Tingling or numbness in the arms.
Some people may also experience:
- Blurred vision
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Disturbed sleep
- Memory problems
As per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), symptoms may appear anytime from right after the incident to several days after the incident. So, watch out for any physical changes for a few days following the incident.
How is a whiplash injury treated?
The best approach to treating a whiplash injury is by reducing the pain and stiffness in the neck and by healing the damaged ligaments in the affected area. In about 60% of patients, the symptoms disappear entirely or reduce significantly within one to four weeks of the injury. However, depending on the severity of the injury, it may sometimes take a few months for the symptoms to disappear completely. Some patients experience neck pain and stiffness for a long time after the injury.
There are several treatment options available to ease the symptoms of whiplash.
- Apply an ice pack: Apply an ice pack as soon as possible after the injury, for at least 15 to 20 minutes every 3-4 hours. It will help relieve swelling and pain. If the pain is intense, contact your healthcare professional or a pain management specialist for pain relief medicines.
- Take OTCs: Anti-inflammatory drugs like Tylenol, Advil, and Motrin will help reduce pain. However, check with your practitioner before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. If OTCs do not work, your doctor will prescribe painkillers and muscle relaxants.
- Maintain correct posture: Maintaining a correct posture is critical after a whiplash injury. Keep your neck and back straight when you are sitting, standing, or walking to help prevent stiffness. You may want to put back support on your chair while you are recovering from the injury. The best way to recover from whiplash is to stay active, avoid unnecessary strain on your neck, and do some gentle neck and shoulder exercises.
If these home treatments don’t alleviate neck pain or reduce stiffness, make an appointment to see a pain management specialist. Although most causes of whiplash are not a reason for concern, there are certain conditions, like constant headaches or numbness in arms, that may be causing your discomfort.
Please reach out to us if you experience numbness in the neck area, severe headaches, or memory loss. These are signs that something serious is going on with your health that needs immediate attention. Seek medical help before this neck pain starts affecting your work or personal life.