whiplash injury: Symptoms & Diagnosis, treatment & Recovery


What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden and violent movement of the head in one direction and then quickly back again, usually during a car accident.

When your neck is forced beyond its normal range of motion, the soft tissues (tendons, muscles, and ligaments) can become overstretched or sprained. This causes pain and discomfort in your neck and shoulders and may also cause back pain.

How do I know if I have whiplash?

Sometimes you can have no symptoms after a whiplash injury, but sometimes your symptoms can be severe.

Pain from a whiplash injury often begins 6 to 12 hours after the injury. You may just feel uncomfortable on the day of the injury or accident and find that your pain, swelling, and bruising increase over the following days.

Common symptoms of whiplash include:

  • neck problems: pain, stiffness, swelling, or tenderness
  • difficulty moving your neck
  • headaches, difficulty concentrat
  • muscle spasms or weakness
  • ‘tingling pain, numbness or pain in your arms and hands or shoulders
  • dizziness, vertigo, (a feeling you are moving or spinning), or tinnitus (ringing in your ears)
  • difficulties swallowing or blurred vision

Your symptoms are likely to greatly improve or disappear within a few days to weeks. It may take longer for your symptoms to resolve completely and you might even experience some pain and neck stiffness for months after a whiplash injury.

What causes whiplash?

Whiplash injuries are usually caused by motor vehicle accidents. For example, if your neck accelerates and decelerates quickly in a back or side impact.

You can also get whiplash from a sudden blow to the head during contact sports like rugby or boxing. Other examples of causes of whiplash include: being hit in the head by a heavy object, slipping, falling, jolting, or shaking the head.

How is whiplash diagnosed?

The doctor will examine you, feel your neck and see how well your neck moves in different directions. They may order an X-ray of the neck to rule out a broken or dislocated bone. Whiplash is caused by damage to soft tissue, so it does not show up on an X-ray.

How do I treat whiplash?

stay active

While you are recovering from whiplash, try to stay active. Continue with your normal activities as much as you can. Avoiding activity after whiplash may mean your recovery takes longer.

Adapt your activities

At first, you may need to adjust the way you move to take care of your neck. Then gradually get back to your normal activities as the neck recovers.

You may need to adjust some of your work or recreational activities for a while to avoid putting unnecessary strain on your neck. For example, you can take more trips so you don’t have to do a lot of shopping at once, cut back on housework or gardening, or raise your bike’s handlebars so you can change your posture.

Try an ice pack

An ice pack can relieve your swelling and pain. Apply this as soon as possible after the injury, for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. You can make an ice pack from a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel to prevent cold burns.

Consider your posture

Correct posture is important after a whiplash injury. Keep your back straight when sitting, standing or walking to avoid stiffness and pain. If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, take regular breaks to stand up and move around so your neck and back don’t get stiff. Adding a back support to your chair may help you recover from an injury, especially if you work at a desk.

Rehab services: Physiotherapy/Osteopathy/chiropractic and ….

Osteopathy as non-invasive treatment offers mobilization on the facet joints and vertebrae, muscle energy technics and soft tissue therapy to reactive the nerves pulses and improve spinal function.

Physical therapy may help you regain movement in your neck. Physical therapists use gentle exercises, manipulation, and massage to help restore your body’s maximum range of motion after injury or illness. A physical therapist can also teach you how to exercise without causing further damage to your neck.

See your doctor or pharmacist

If you are in pain, ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on the right pain relievers.

Whiplash Injury

What should I avoid when I have whiplash?

Avoid heavy lifting, punching or pulling, or contact sports such as rugby and boxing until symptoms improve. Consult your doctor or healthcare professional before resuming these activities.

Be careful when lifting, bending, or performing repetitive twisting motions. Make sure you rest regularly.

Resting, taking time off work, or wearing a collar is not likely to help your recovery from whiplash. Do not do these things without consulting your doctor or physiotherapist.

How can I avoid whiplash?

The design of the car has been improved to reduce the possibility of whiplash. Correct adjustment of the car seat and headrest is very important to minimize the possibility of impact.

For proper driving posture, adjust your steering wheel so that it is level with your chest, not your face. Bend your arms and keep your thumbs on the edge of the steering wheel. Keep the chair straight so that your back and shoulders are supported and sit deep in the chair and strengthen your body with your left leg.

What complications may I experience from whiplash?

In severe whiplash injuries, your neck may be damaged, broken, or dislocated.

Most people make a full recovery after whiplash. For a small percentage of people, whiplash can lead to ongoing pain and disability. Some people may experience depression or post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Your attitude can also affect your recovery. Research has shown that if you believe you will recover from whiplash, you have a better chance of making a full recovery than if you are feeling down and negative about your injury. Your age and the severity of the initial injury also play a role in how quickly you recover.