Whiplash injury symptoms, causes and treatment tips
Whiplash can certainly be a shock to the system. The weight of the head is supported by the neck and those nerves that carry sensory and motor (movement) information from the brain to the body is protected by the neck. The neck is also highly flexible which allows the head to turn from left to right, upwards and downwards.
Whiplash is caused by a sudden backward-forward movement of the neck. The sudden force causes the muscles and tendons to stretch and tear. It is a relatively common injury usually caused by car accidents – more often the rear impact type, while in a stationary position. This also afflicts many athletes, most especially those who play contact sports like football.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
When suffering from whiplash, the pain is often hard to ignore. More often than not, people recover from whiplash but some may develop chronic pain after this type of injury. There may be a long delay between the cause of whiplash and the symptoms showing, even years later a small trigger can ‘unmask’ a whiplash injury from years before.
- Tightness in the neck – the muscles may feel knotted.
- Decreased range of motion due to pain.
- Pain when rocking the head from side to side or nodding backward and forward.
- Headaches at the base of the skull that spreads towards the forehead.
There may also be shoulder pain, jaw pain, back pain, ringing in the ears and even arm pain. In more chronic and severe cases, symptoms may include any of the following:
- Post traumatic stress syndrome
- Sleep disturbance
- Drug Dependency
Causes of Whiplash
Whiplash can occur from a number of activities. The following below are the most common:
- Car accidents – usually the rear impact type
- Being punched, shaken and other forms of physical abuse
- Contact sports that involve tackling or heavy physical contact such boxing, karate and football
- Horseback riding
- Cycling accidents
- Activities or accidents in which the head is suddenly jerked forward
- Blows to the head with a heavy object
When to seek medical help?
Most mild to moderate cases of whiplash can be treated at home; however, immediate medical attention should be sought if the following are being experienced:
- Pain or stiffness in the neck that goes away then returns
- Severe, debilitating neck pain
- Pain, numbness or tingling in the shoulders, arms or legs
- Issues with the bladder or bowel
Seeking medical care is important especially if there is an insurance claim ongoing, although it should be noted that any legal proceedings will often prolong the symptoms being felt.
Whiplash treatments are relatively simple as the medication is readily available and can be purchased over the counter. Given time, whiplash will heal by itself but to ease the pain, the following home remedies can be done:
- Ice the neck to reduce the pain and swelling
- If recommended by a doctor or pharmacist, take painkillers or other drugs
- Use of a neck brace should only occur if there is a fracture to the neck, research has shown getting the neck moving soon after an accident, provided no fracture has occurred, improves the chance of a positive outcome significantly.
- A heat pack may be applied to the neck but only after two to three days of applying ice to the affected area.
If whiplash symptoms keep persisting, you may want to try an alternative form of treatment such as osteopathy which can help loosen tight muscles and joints and improve mobility of the injured area. Our osteopaths have treated the symptoms of whiplash for hundreds of patients over the years so please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to know how osteopathy may help with your whiplash injury: