Whiplash is a neck injury due to abrupt and vigorous movement of the head backwards, sideways or forwards. The usual causes of whiplash include the following:
- Vehicular accidents
- Slips or falls where the head is jarred or jolted
- Struck on the head by a heavy object
- Sudden blow to the head during contact sports such as boxing or rugby
Whiplash occurs if the neck is driven beyond its normal range of movement which sprains or overly stretches the soft tissues of the neck. This results to pain and discomfort in the neck and shoulder region as well as back pain.
The pain or discomfort from the injury often starts 6-12 hours after. Most feel uncomfortable on the day of the injury and the pain, swelling and bruising increases the following days.
The symptoms often improve drastically or disappear within 1-4 weeks. It might take longer for the symptoms to fully vanish and some experience pain and stiffness of the neck for months after the injury.
When to consult a doctor
- Pain becomes worse
- Pain does not subside in a week or so
- Bladder or bowel issues along with fever and neck pain
- Tingling, numbness or pins and needles sensation in the legs or arms
Indications of whiplash
Whiplash occurs if the tendons, muscles and ligaments in the neck are sprained. The usual signs and symptoms include the following:
- Neck stiffness and pain
- Muscle spasms
- Tenderness and swelling in the neck
- Pain in the arms or shoulders
- Brief loss of movement or diminished motion in the neck
In some cases, whiplash can also cause the following:
- Lower back pain
- Pins and needles sensation, pain and numbness in the arms and hands
- Blurry vision
- Irritability and tiredness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Apply an ice pack to reduce the pain and swelling. This must be applied as soon as possible after the injury for 15-20 minutes at a time. An ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables should be wrapped with a cloth or towel.
- Exercise helps increase the range of movement. The next few days after the injury, movement should be limited to avoid pain, but it is ideal to continue moving as usual. The individual should gently move the neck forwards, backwards and sideways to prevent it from stiffening. As the neck pain reduces, it is easier to gently stretch the neck until full range of movement is achieved.
- For pain relief, consult the doctor regarding suitable pain medications.
- Encourage the individual to keep his/her back straight while seated, standing or walking to prevent pain and stiffness from developing.
- Avoid pulling, heavy lifting or contact sports until all symptoms improved and the doctor has allowed activity.
- For those who spend long periods of time sitting in front of a desk, it is best to take regular breaks by standing up and moving the body so that the neck will not stiffen. A special back support for the chair can be used if recovering from an injury.
- Be careful when lifting, bending or performing repetitive twisting movements.
- Use a firm support pillow while sleeping.
- Physiotherapy can help the individual regain normal neck movement. This is achieved with gentle exercises, massage and manipulation to restore the maximum range of motion after the injury.