Signs and Symptoms of Whiplash

Whiplash is an injury that can be sustained through a variety of activities. Minor whiplash will often heal on its own over a period of time. However, whiplash can be serious and even chronic, with symptoms that can last for more than six months.


Whiplash, Defined

According to the Mayo Clinic, whiplash is an injury the neck sustains when the head suddenly moves backward and then forward. The muscles react automatically as a reflex, leaving the head behind as the body is thrust forward. This quick motion pushes the neck muscles and the neck ligaments beyond their typical range of motion.

Whiplash can be minor, mild, or severe. Sometimes, it can cause torn ligaments and tendons, as well as other structural damage to the neck.

The Causes of Whiplash

Whiplash is often associated with rear end automobile accidents. However, this is not the only way a person can get whiplash. According to Medical News Today, whiplash can happen through a variety of activities. It can be sustained after being thrown from a horse, falling off of a bicycle, or when the head or neck area is dealt a powerful blow such as in karate, football, boxing, or rugby.

Women are diagnosed with whiplash more often than men. Medical professionals attribute the disparity to the fact that females generally have weaker neck muscles than males.

The Symptoms of Whiplash

The symptoms of whiplash can vary from person to person as well as by their degree of severity. Most often, symptoms come about within 24 hours of the incident that caused the injury and generally include neck pain or stiffness, headaches at the base of the skull, dizziness, fatigue, and blurred vision. Some people experience other symptoms including memory problems, irritability, disturbances with sleep, an inability to concentrate, and ringing in the ears.

Whiplash Treatments

According to the National Health Service, treatment for whiplash — like the symptoms themselves — often hinges on how severely the neck was injured and how long the pain and discomfort has lasted. In cases where whiplash is minor, it will usually get better on its own. In more severe cases, whiplash may require treatment. This treatment might include:

Mobilization: Keeping a whiplashed neck mobile will help speed up the recovery process. A person shouldn’t engage in too much movement, but gentle exercises can help hasten the recovery process. A neck that is kept too still will remain stiff and sore.

Painkillers: Pain medications, particularly anti-inflammatories, are often used to help reduce discomfort.

Physiotherapy: If symptoms of whiplash are severe, or if they continue for weeks after the incident, physiotherapy may be recommended. This is a form of therapy that uses a range of physical techniques, including massage, manipulation, and palpitation to help restore the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the neck to their original function, movement, and range of motion.

Self-care: Whiplash can sometimes be prevented with proactive self-care. Some of this self-care includes good posture (including maintaining upright posture and keeping the back straight while sitting, standing, and walking); sleeping with a firm, supportive pillow; and engaging in controlled exercises like yoga. These exercises can help strengthen the neck and its surrounding muscles.

This article was written by Nurse Practitioner Laura Green.  Laura specializes in urgent care, and treats many people involved in Auto Accidents.


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