What is Whiplash? Know its Symptoms and Treatment

An injury to the neck which is caused by constant forward and backward movement of the head is called “Whiplash”. It is also known as acceleration or deceleration injury. This is a common injury sustained by sportsmen as a result of falling directly onto the ground facing the head downwards. This injury also occurs from motor vehicle accident.

What is Whiplash?

In General What is Whiplash?

Sprain of the ligament within the neck or strain of neck muscle is called “Whiplash”. It is seen in most of the cases that the injured muscles are usually Longus colli, sternocleidomastoid and Levator. Sometimes, if the severity of the injury is high, then nerve structure is damaged and cervical vertebrae can be fractured.

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Symptoms of Whiplash

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Cervical spine movement is restricted and range of motion is decreased.
  • Pain and stiffness of the neck that usually will develop over a period of 2 to 4 days.
  • Headache.
  • Blurry vision usually lasting less than 24 hours. If symptoms continue to persist for more than 24 hours, then should consult the doctor immediately.
  • Pain associated with stiffness will last for days to weeks which usually depend on the severity of the injury.

Serious symptoms of Whiplash which would indicate the severity of the injury and necessity of seeking immediate medical intervention are:

  • Loss of memory.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Severe/intolerable pain in the head especially in the back.
  • Numbness or pins and needles sensation in the arms or shoulders.

Treatment of Whiplash

  • Seek immediate medical attention and get the cervical spine and neck evaluated for nerve damage and fractures.
  • Doctor will write a script for anti-inflammatory medication or pain killers to help alleviate the symptoms.
  • As an initial treatment, application of ice 4-5 times a day in the first 2-4 days of injury is suggested.
  • Earlier cervical collars used to be recommended as a treatment modality in case of whiplash injuries, but now a days range of motion exercises and mobilization exercises are widely recommended. Department of Physical Therapy is making good progress in formulating exercise regimens for these types of injuries. An important reason for encouraging exercises is that the recovery time is very less.
  • Once pain and inflammation subsides, then start gentle range of motion of the neck by moving it in all directions. Make sure that there is no pain while doing this and repeat it once in every two hours.
  • Start moving neck for all movements slowly and keep increasing the movements day by day.
  • Deep tissue massage and manipulation should be started after 72 hours of acute phase. This will help in restoring the normal range of motion of the neck.
  • Once pain-free neck range of motion is obtained, strengthening and stretching exercises can be started with the help of a professional.

Also Read: Q&A on Whiplash Injury: Common Injuries, Recovery, Activity Restrictions