Whiplash, or acceleration / deceleration injury as it is also known is injury to the neck, caused by a rapid forwards and backwards motion of the head. This occurs most commonly from a car accident, although can also be sustained through sports involving direct contact or a fall onto the head.
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
- Stiffness and pain in the neck which may not come on immediately but develop over the following 24 to 48 hours
- Reduced range of movement in the cervical spine (neck)
- Blurred vision (this should go within 24 hours, if they persist consult your doctor)
- Pain and stiffness may last a few days, to a few weeks, depending on the severity
Watch out for the following:
- Severe pain in the back of the head
- Pins and needles or numbness in the shoulders or arms
- Memory loss
All of these symptoms could indicate a more serious injury or concussion. If any of these symptoms are present you should return to the Doctor or hospital.
Whiplash is basically a neck muscle strain and/or ligament sprain within the neck. The most commonly injured muscles are the Sternocleidomastoid, Levator scapulae and Longus colli. In more severe cases of whiplash there can also be nerve damage and fractures of various processes of the cervical vertebrae
Treatment of Whiplash
Visit your Doctor or hospital to get the neck checked for fractures and nerve damage. Signs of nerve injury include pins and needles, tingling in the neck, shoulder or arm and numbness.
Applying cold therapy can help relieve pain and inflammation in the first 24-48 hours. Do not apply ice directly to the skin as it can cause ice burns but use a wet towel or better still a commercially available ice pack. Cold can be applied for 10 minutes every hour initially. This will help stop any bleeding in the muscles, reduce pain, reduce inflammation and have a muscle relaxing effect when the ice is removed.
A Doctor may prescribe painkillers or anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen. These will also have a muscle relaxing effect which should aid movement and recovery. Your doctor will check for any contraindications which may mean a particular drug is not suitable for you. For example you should not take ibuprofen if you have asthma.
Supports and braces
Neck collars are not being used as widely now in the treatment of whiplash injuries because early mobilisation and range of movement exercises are being encouraged. This has been shown to decrease recovery time.
Try to gently move your neck in all directions as soon as you feel able to and on a regular basis (every couple of hours). Aim to increase the range of movement each time and make sure exercises are always done within pain free limits.
After the acute phase (minimum 72 hours), manipulation and deep tissue massage may help restore normal function to the neck.