Whiplash injury (also called neck sprain or neck strain) refers to an injury that occurs when the soft tissues in the neck become stretched and damaged (sprained). This neck injury occurs due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like “the cracking of a whip”. Generally, women are more at risk of suffering this neck injury as their necks are not as strong as men. The injury can be mild or severe and the intensity of the pain can differ from person to person. Though most people recover from this injury within a few weeks, others may develop chronic pain soon after it occurs.
Here are five important things you should know about whiplash.
How whiplash occurs?
Whiplash most often occurs during a rear-end collision. The impact causes sudden movement of the structures within the neck and changes the normal curve of the upper back and neck. The backward movement (extension) and forward movement (flexion) can injure bones in the spine, disks between the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and other tissues of the neck. Due to its ability to move in various directions, the neck is particularly vulnerable to this type of injury. However, whiplash can also result from sports accident, motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall, physical abuse or other trauma.
Symptoms of whiplash
The signs and symptoms associated with this condition can vary widely among individuals. The primary symptom of whiplash is neck or upper back pain. Signs and symptoms usually develop within 24 hours of the injury and may include –
- Tightness or spasms of the muscles the neck or upper back
- Fatigue and dizziness
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Tingling or numbness in the arms
- Headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
- Worsening of pain with neck movement
Some people also experience other symptoms such as –
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Sleep disturbances
How whiplash is diagnosed?
As part of the diagnosis, physicians will conduct a variety of imaging tests like X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and more to determine the exact type of neck injury. The physician will recommend the correct treatment options based on the evaluation of individual considerations.
Most cases of injury can be easily treated at home using medications, cervical collar (brace), ice or heat application or other remedies. However, if symptoms such as difficulty in moving head or arms, neck pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the arms, neck or legs and specific issues with the bladder or bowels persist, you should seek medical attention without delay. Treatment modalities offered in professional health care centers include:
- Chiropractic care – This treatment modality helps to loosen up the joints of the cervical vertebrae in the neck which in turn may alleviate joint pain and muscle spasms. In addition, it helps to correct the overall spinal alignment.
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy exercises helps to strengthen the muscles that support the neck. It may also help patients to improve posture and a range of motion.
- Cervical epidural injections – These are injected around the epidural space to lower inflammation and irritation around the nerves.
- Exercise – Exercises helps patients to improve their muscle stiffness and pain. This may generally include strengthening and stretching exercises.
- Prescription medications – People with more-severe pain may benefit from over-the-counter pain relievers such as such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and ibuprofen that can often control mild to moderate whiplash pain.
There are certain things that can be done to improve or prevent chances of its occurrence:
- Practice strengthening exercises to keep your neck muscles strong and limber, (if you had suffered neck strain before)
- Office workers or other people, who sit in the same position all day, should take regular breaks to stretch and exercise their necks.
- Always use seat belts and drive motor vehicles with airbags
- Proper adjustment of the car seat headrest can also help keep the neck from snapping backwards