Whiplash

Whiplash is a neck injury similar to a strain or a sprain and usually follows some sort of trauma to the neck area. Whiplash is usually caused as a result of an abrupt back-and-forward motion of the head and neck; people in car accidents where they have been hit from the rear often complain of whiplash. Depending on the extent of the injury, whiplash can be quite painful and can, in some cases, become a chronic condition with debilitating effects.

How can I tell if I have whiplash?

Most people don’t just develop whiplash spontaneously, so if your neck pain isn’t the result of a recent, identifiable trauma, then it’s more likely to be the result of a degenerative condition like a prolapsed disc or a pinched nerve. If you have been in an accident, whiplash symptoms usually set in within 24 hours of the incident and can include:

  • Neck pain or neck stiffness
  • Blurry vision and dizziness
  • Headaches (particularly at the top of the neck/bottom of the skull)
  • Fatigue

People who have this condition might also have a hard time concentrating or remembering things, difficulty sleeping and ringing in their ears. If you develop any of the symptoms above following an accident, you should see your physician to get checked for whiplash. This is especially true if your pain radiates to your shoulders and arms, if you have trouble moving your head or if your arms feel numb, weak or tingly.

What are my treatment options if I have whiplash?

Treatment for whiplash usually begins conservatively with over-the-counter, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen to combat swelling, pain and inflammation within the first couple of days. Ice, heat and rest are also generally recommended for people who have whiplash.

If the injury doesn’t respond to conservative treatment, your physician might have you try prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants to relieve pain and stiffness. Corticosteroid injections into the site of the injury might also provide some relief from pain and spasms.

Most whiplash injuries improve within a couple of weeks with conservative care measures. However, if the condition persists, your physician might recommend physical therapy to try to regain strength and stability in your neck muscles. Alternative medical treatments, such as ultrasound therapy or chiropractic, are also popular ways to deal with neck pain resulting from whiplash.

Also, although the stereotypical image of a man in a foam cervical collar is often associated with whiplash injuries, cervical collars are generally not recommended for long-term use and should only be worn sporadically during the first few days after the injury. This is because wearing a collar could lead to muscle weakness in the neck – exactly the opposite of what your neck needs in order to recover.