Isolated studio shot of a muscular man in a fitness outfit experiencing neck pain.

Understanding Whiplash: Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

What is whiplash?

Another term for whiplash is neck strain. This type of neck injury is often the result of an accident wherein a sudden impact or blow leads to a person’s head being thrown backward and then forward. The aftermath of this force leads to neck strain where the muscles and ligaments are strained. There is a big difference between a neck strain and neck sprain. A neck strain is more concentrated on the damaged done to the muscles and tendons in the neck area whereas the neck sprain, it is usually the tearing of the ligaments.

Causes of whiplash

Neck strain or whiplash, as mentioned above is due to an injury caused by a sudden force prompting the head to jerk forward or backward. The following are some of the common causes of this type of neck injury:

  • Car accidents wherein the major collision happens on the rear-end resulting to a whiplash.
  • Forced physical contact or abuse is another reason wherein the concerned individual is either punched or shaken. One good example of this type of injury is the shaken baby syndrome.
  • Contact sports like football where body collision is expected while playing the sport.

Symptoms of whiplash

Below are the usual symptoms that an affected individual might experience or complain during the 24 hours timeframe after the incident.

  • Pain around the neck is evident where the muscles feel hard or stiff.
  • Headaches starting at the base of the skull and running towards the forehead.
  • Feeling of tenderness on the neck area.
  • Fatigue, dizziness and rare cases blurry vision.
  • Feeling sleepy all the time.

Other unusual signs that can be felt by the person with a neck strain

  • Unable to focus on things.
  • Experience of memory lapses.
  • Feeling of ringing inside the ears.
  • Mood swings, getting irritated easily with no apparent reason.

Is there a need for immediate medical check-up?

Medical evaluation is a must after a whiplash, especially if the blow resulted to a major concussion. You need to seek medical help immediately if you have the following concerns:

  • You feel somewhat confused.
  • You became unconscious.
  • The pain becomes unbearable as it spreads on your arms and shoulders.
  • You feel numbness, tingling sensation or weakening in your arms.

Risk factors

Although, everyone is considered at risk, women in particular are the most vulnerable in having whiplash injuries than males because men’s neck is stronger by nature as compared to women’s neck.

What are the possible complications?

Patients can fully recover from a neck strain or whiplash after two to three months. There are also cases wherein the healing period may take longer and could last for months or up to two years. Chronic pain can occur among individuals who suffered from a whiplash.

What are the tests and diagnosis needed to verify the severity of the neck strain?

The attending doctor will request an extensive medical examination and a series of tests are performed which include:

X-rays concentrating on the neck area to determine the real cause of the problem, whether it is a spinal fracture, dislocation or ailment such as arthritis.

Computerized tomography (CT scan), tests usually combine x-rays images taken from different angels in order to come up with more accurate images of the bone and soft tissues.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), is the best clinical examination procedure to detect soft tissue injuries like spinal cord or nerve roots.

What are the possible treatments and drugs to treat whiplash?

Whiplash can heal on its own, but if the injury is causing a lot of pain or discomfort to the affected person, treatments and drugs are generally given by medical practitioners.

Medication

In cases, where over-the-counter pain relievers and other home-care remedies aren’t performing well like the use of ice pack, the attending doctor may prescribe these medications:

Prescribed painkillers are given to patients who are in severe pain and could greatly benefit from these medications.

The injection of lidocaine (Xylocaine) is intended to provide relief against muscle spasms.

Prescribed muscle relaxant drugs are given to patients to lessen muscles spasms. There medicines are usually taken at bedtime because they might cause drowsiness.

Therapeutic programs

There are cases wherein the need to undergo a therapeutic program under the professional care of a licensed physical therapist is recommended. The therapy may include the following:

  • Ice and heat application
  • Manual therapies like myofascial release
  • Ultrasound
  • Routine exercise consisting of stretching to strengthen the neck muscles and lessen the occurrence of symptoms

Wearing of a neck brace or collar

The wearing of neck support like a neck brace or collar should only come from the advice of a doctor. These support devices are only worn for a short period of time and aren’t advisable for long-term usage because they might do more harm to the patient like delaying the recovery period or worst weaken the neck muscles.

Other alternative treatments

Even in today’s advanced technology, there are still individuals who resort to conventional or traditional method of treatments to treat a whiplash. Here are some of them:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic care
  • Massage
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS)

How to prevent a whiplash?

No one can predict when a person will encounter an accident that could lead to a neck strain or whiplash, but with the application of these some measures, you can at least minimize the extent of injury:

Engage to some forms of routine exercise that are geared towards strengthening the neck muscles.

If your work requires long periods of sitting, do some stretching or exercise your neck during your break time to lessen neck strains in the future.