A form of neck strain, whiplash arises from the head being jolted violently back and forth, usually as a result of a sudden blow or impact. The most common situation in which this occurs is a car accident, but a fall or an assault can have the same effect. You also have an increased risk of whiplash when you take part in certain contact sports, such as rugby and boxing.
Causes of Whiplash Injury Symptoms
If your head is suddenly forced violently backwards and forwards, or sideways, causing it move beyond its normal range, this can strain the soft tissues – the muscles, tendons, and ligaments – in your neck. An unexpected blow or collision tends to increase the severity of the damage, as the muscles have no time to prepare for the impact.
Symptoms and Diagnosis for Whiplash Injury
Initially, you may feel little pain, but over the next day or so both the front and back of your neck and shoulders will become stiff and painful, and possibly swollen. You may also experience muscle spasms, limited neck movement, nausea, headaches, blurring of vision, and “ringing” in your ears, along with a general feeling of tiredness and, sometimes, difficulty thinking. A pain or tingling in your shoulder that runs down your arms and possibly into your hand may indicate nerve-root irritation from a disc injury. In severe cases, your doctor may request an X-ray or advanced imaging, but in most cases this is not necessary, and a physical examination will reassure your doctor that it is only a soft-tissue injury.
Risks and Recovery for Whiplash Injury
You should always seek immediate treatment for any direct trauma to the neck, as it has the potential to cause paralysis and even death. However, the risk of any serious problems arising from an indirect whiplash injury is very low. Most of the symptoms will disappear within a few weeks without any specific treatment other than rest and taking extra care in your daily routine. Too much rest and inactivity, howerver, can delay healing, and, as whiplash can lead to long-term problems, such as restricted movement and difficulties with sleeping and concentration, a thorough medical examination is important.