Whiplash is a serious neck injury that occurs when your head is forcefully and suddenly thrown backwards and then forward, just like the shattering of a whip. This rapid back and forth movement can damage bones in your cervical spine, discs between the vertebral bones, ligaments, nerves and other tissues surrounding the affected area. Here we discuss the milder forms of this condition.
Due to the rapid motion, the soft tissues (muscles & ligaments) in your neck might stretch beyond their range of motion. When they stretch, they tend to damage, and the severity of the damage depends on the force of impact. The signs and symptoms might also appear after a while, so when you met with an accident involving your neck, pay attention to your physical changes for a few days following an accident.
Most of the time, people suffering from Whiplash get better in a few weeks if they follow a perfect treatment plan with medication and exercise. However, in some people, the condition turns out to be chronic and suffers from long-lasting complications.
Causes of whiplash injury
A whiplash injury commonly results from auto accidents and four-wheeler accidents. Sometimes, it also results from sports accidents, physical injuries and traumas due to falling etc. Whiplash is also termed as neck sprain or neck strain, but those terms may also indicate some other neck injuries.
Only mild cases are included. People with pre existing canal compromise have a risk of developing paralysis after whiplash. In this article only mild form of whiplash injuries are being discussed.
Some other causes of Whiplash include:
- Physical assault, like punching on the face or shaken vigorously
- Injuries in contact sports like football, volleyball, boxing, karate etc.
- Horseback riding
- Cycling accidents
- Falling don that involves the head
- Falling from heights
- Hitting the head by a heavy object
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
You may not observe symptoms initially; they usually appear around 24 hours from the accident that leads to Whiplash. Sometimes, the symptoms might appear a few days later after the accident. They last a few days to several weeks based on the severity.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Neck pain
- Stiffness or limited range of motion
- Pain becomes worse with movement
- Headaches, especially at the base of the skull
- Dizziness & fatigue
- Pain in your shoulders, upper back or arms
- Tingling or numbing sensation in the arms
- Constant weariness
Some other Less common symptoms of chronic Whiplash include:
- Vision problems(blurred vision)
- Difficult to concentrate
- Memory problems
- Ringing sounds in the ears
- Unable to sleep well
- Pain that radiates to other body parts
In most of the cases, people with Whiplash recover shortly within a few weeks and may not have any long-lasting complications after recovery. However, a few people suffer from pain for several months or years after a whiplash injury.
The recovery varies from person to person with Whiplash, and it is also difficult to predict. In general, the condition turns out to be chronic if your initial symptoms are intense, like severe neck pain, limited range of motion, and pain that spreads to the shoulder and the arms.
The condition becomes even worse in the following cases
- Having a whiplash before
- Older age
- Suffering lower back or neck pain
- The impact of injury is high
Treatment for Whiplash ( only for mild cases)
The goal of treatment for Whiplash is to alleviate pain and restore the range of motion to your neck. The treatment plan highly depends on the extent of the damage to the neck.
In most patients, the symptoms clear up after a few days. The National Health Service says that in approximately 60% of cases with Whiplash, the symptoms disappear completely within 1-4 weeks. However, in some patients, extra is needed. Some of the treatment options to alleviate symptoms of Whiplash include:
Apply an Ice pack to your neck: Applying ice as soon as possible after an injury helps to reduce pain and swelling. Wrap the ice cubes in a towel or cloth and keep them on the injured area for 10-15 minutes every 3-4 hours for a few days.
Rest: Resting for a day or two might be helpful after the injury, but taking rest too much might delay the recovery.
Medication: Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen helps to relieve mild to moderate whiplash pain. In case of more severe pain, antidepressant drugs might be given to relieve nerve pain. Muscle relaxants might be recommended for tight muscles and to ease the pain.
Corticosteroid or lidocaine injections are given if the patient experiences severe pain and muscle spasms.
Use a neck brace or collar: Soft foam collars and neck braces can be used if recommended by doctors for whiplash injury treatment. However, they are not recommended for more than 3 hours at a time because immobilizing the neck for long periods weakens the muscles and delays the recovery.
Physical therapy: Physical therapy is one of the effective treatments for whiplash pain and range of motion. Physical therapy includes a range of exercises and massage therapy which makes you feel better and also prevents further complications. The exercises suggested your physical therapist strengthen your muscles and improve neck posture.
Exercise: Exercises are also a part of treatment to recover from Whiplash. Your doctor might suggest some simple stretching and movement exercises for you to do at home. Strengthening of neck muscles doing isometric neck exercises are extremely useful and help to get back to your daily activities.
TENS and Ultrasound treatment options are also found to be effective in some cases, but the resources are limited to prove them. However, one way or the other, the symptoms of Whiplash can be managed effectively. For more information or experiencing any cervical problems consult Dr. Surya Prakash, one of the best Spine Surgeons in Hyderabad. He has more than two decades of experience in treating various cervical spine problems.