A whiplash injury happens when the neck is violently jolted forwards and backwards, like a whip. This is a fairly common injury, happening to as many as two out of three people that have been in rear end car collisions, although they can occur during a collision to the front or side of the car as well.
Even though we associate whiplash with car accidents, they can sometimes happen after a trip or a fall. In very rare cases or in particularly nasty collisions, there can be damage to the spine or the spinal cord, but this kind of injury would be looked at by urgent care. For this purposes of this article, we’ll concentrate on the more common whiplash strain, its symptoms and treatments.
Symptoms of Whiplash Injury
The pain of a whiplash injury very often doesn’t appear until hours or even a day after the incident. The first sign will be pain and stiffness, which will grow worse the day after the incident. This is because it can take time for inflammation or the bruising of the affected muscle to build up. The pain and stiffness may reach as far down as the shoulders or arms. Looking up or down or turning the head may also be painful.
When to see the doctor with Whiplash Injury
In most cases, the muscles of the neck will sort themselves out within a few days of a whiplash injury. Placing an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas, which will mould nicely to the body, on the neck within twenty-four hours will help to reduce the inflammation. Make sure the wrap the cold pack in a towel or cloth so it doesn’t injure the skin. Simple painkillers such as paracetamol should also help with the pain and swelling.
However, if the paracetamol isn’t making a dent in the pain or the pain is sharp and intense, or if the sufferer is experiencing memory loss or loss of consciousness, heaviness or numbness in the arms, he should see a doctor immediately. If you have been suffering from neck pain from a whiplash injury for an extended period of time such as several weeks, you may also wish to consult your doctor.
Diagnosis of Whiplash Injury
Your doctor will diagnose whiplash after discussing with you your medical history and a description of your symptoms. Unfortunately, whiplash cannot be detected on an x-ray, CT scan or MRI; although one of these tests may be done if your doctor suspects that there is a small fracture or dislocation, which is rare.
Treatment of Whiplash Injury
Research has shown that whiplash patients that have worn a soft collar and rested for several weeks actually recover slower than those that try to go on with their normal activities.
Even patients with acute pain are generally advised to get out of bed after two or three days and start performing neck exercises, which your doctor can provide. Unfortunately, the pain associated with whiplash can hang on for as long as several months because it is, after all, a strain injury.