Whiplash

Definition

Whiplash is a soft tissue neck injury that can include:

  • Spraining the neck ligaments
  • Straining the neck muscles
  • Injury to cervical discs
  • Possible nerve injury
Process Leading to Whiplash
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Causes

Whiplash can occur with any sudden, violent, backward jerk of the head or neck.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of whiplash include:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Sporting events that include full contact
  • Falls
  • Assaults

Symptoms

Symptoms often develop in the hours after the injury although they can develop in the days after the injury.

Symptoms may include:

  • Stiff neck
  • Neck pain
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Decreased range of neck motion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Headache
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling extending down an arm
  • Unusual fatigue

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Most whiplash injuries do not show up on imaging tests. Your doctor may order some tests to make sure that no other injuries have occurred.

Your doctor may want to take images of the neck to look for further damage. Images may be taken with:

An electromyogram may also be done to test for nerve damage.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include:

  • Use an ice pack for the first few days, then switch to a heat pack.
  • Medications such as:
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers
    • Prescription pain relievers
    • Muscle relaxants
  • Move as your able—strict rest may slow recovery
  • Physical therapy and exercises
  • Joint manipulation of the spine done by a chiropractor or other trained provider

Prevention

There are no current guidelines for preventing whiplash. It often occurs due to an unexpected event.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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