This condition is marked by a sprain or a strain of the neck. It’s often caused by car accidents or other injuries such as sports-related accidents, falls and assault. Damage in the neck can affect the discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, nerve roots or intervertebral joints between the vertebrae. This type of injury is often brought about when the neck is jerked either forward or backward. Such movement is out of the normal range of motion for the neck. “Whiplash” is a non-medical term that may be referred to by doctors as “cervical sprain,” “cervical strain” or “hyperextension injury.” Symptoms may not begin right away so people who are injured may not realize it until 24 hours or later.
Symptoms of whiplash that often occur within the first few days after an accident include neck pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, headaches, low back pain, dizziness, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades, pain or numbness in the arms or hands, fatigue, irritability, sleep disturbances and impaired concentration or memory. Soft tissue injuries such as those caused by whiplash often do not register on an X-Ray so doctors may need to use more specialized imaging tests such as an MRI or CT scan.
Whiplash can occur even in cases of relatively minor car accidents. Medical experts say the condition can develop after an accident with speeds as low as 15 mph. Wearing a seatbelt doesn’t necessarily protect against this type of injury. Children who are shaken may also develop whiplash, and this can be more serious, causing injuries to the brain or spinal cord. Some repetitive stress injuries may also cause whiplash. The amount of time between an accident and the onset of symptoms is an indicator of how severe the injury may be. Patients who experience pain right away may have a more serious injury, while those who have more delayed pain might not be injured as badly.
There is no single medical treatment for whiplash that has proven effective. There are, however, ways to relieve the pain. These may not be effective for everyone, but they include over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, gentle exercise, massage, rest, heat, ice and injections. In the past, most people with whiplash were encouraged to wear a neck brace to stabilize this part of the body. WebMD experts say that the current trend encourages patients to have gentle active movement of the neck early on after the injury.
Most people will recover from whiplash within six weeks of injury. For others, the body may need up to a year or more to recover completely.