Whiplash is a neck injury that can occur when the head and upper body experiences a jerking back and forth motion. The movement may involve injury to muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs or nerves in the neck and upper back. X-rays are sometimes ordered to ensure that no bone damage has occurred during the injury. CT scans and MRI may not provide additional information about whiplash injuries.
Causes of Whiplash
Automobile accident is the most common cause of whiplash injury. Physical assaults involving rough motion of the head and neck can also be a cause. Shaken baby syndrome is a cause of whiplash in infants. Individuals who engage in contact sports may also sustain an injury that jerks the head back and forth suddenly.
Who Is Susceptible to Whiplash Injuries
Young people with flexible necks who do not have good muscle development are most likely to sustain this type of injury. Older people who may have muscle weakness or arthritis are also more prone to these injuries.
Types of Whiplash
Type 1 – Mild injury, discomfort is delayed a few hours or to the next day. Absence from work duties is not required
Type 2 – Moderate injury, with immediate discomfort, neck muscle spasms and loss of motion Recovery may take a few months.
Type 3 – Severe injury, with significant discomfort and the possibility of nerve damage – The patient recovers over a period of months, but may continue to experience discomfort.
Generally, whiplash injuries resolve over time. Treatment to relieve pain and protect the tissues while they are healing provides a good outcome for most patients. Treatments include:
- Resting the muscles for the first 24 hours
- Foam collar or other methods to support the neck
- Applying heat to aid healing of tissues
- Use of over-the-counter pain medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Muscle relaxants to keep patients comfortable during sleep
- Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and ligaments
- Lidocaine injection into the muscles to relieve pain for physical therapy
Self-Care After a Whiplash Injury
Never underestimate the severity of the injury you’ve received. Some cases of whiplash may seem minor, but can end up leading to serious complications as a result of injuries to the spine or cervical disks. This is why it’s important to treat whiplash properly and promptly.
- Do gentle, smooth neck exercise to strengthen muscles on a regular basis.
- Staying and active and continuing to work has a beneficial effect both on the injury and the perception of pain.
- Avoid strenuous activities that involve excessive use of neck muscles until all pain and immobility has resolved.
- Report any increase in discomfort or immobility to your physician.
Whiplash is a term used to describe an injury to the tissues of the neck, back and shoulder that occur during a sudden extension and flexion movement. This type of injury can cause significant pain and disability to the individual, but appropriate treatment over a course of time provides a good prognosis for these patients.