Whiplash

Definition

Whiplash is defined as an injury to the soft tissues of the neck, usually caused by a sudden extension and flexion of the neck, a quick movement back and forth.

Research indicates that up to 60 percent of all whiplash injury patients suffer from lower back pain afterwards. This is commonly caused due to the injury to the discs, facet joints of the low back or the sacroiliac joints.

A non-medical term used to refer to a range of neck injuries related to sudden distortions of the neck, whiplash is most often caused by rear-end car crashes and can often result in injuries to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles and nerve roots.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Cervicogenic or neck-related headaches and stiffness in the neck and at the back of the head are the most common symptoms of whiplash. Here, we list some of the other symptoms experienced by patients of whiplash:

  • Pain in shoulders, arms and between shoulder blades
  • Dizziness
  • Vision problems
  • Fatigue
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Memory/Concentration loss
  • Soreness/Tenderness in muscles
  • Ligament injury
  • Sleep disorder
  • Low back pain
  • Loss of motion in neck
  • Difficulty in swallowing 

Symptoms of whiplash usually subside within 2-4 weeks in most of the cases. However, if symptoms continue or worsen after 6 to 8 weeks, further x-rays or other diagnostic testing may be required.

Whiplash Causes

A car accident, especially from the rear, is regarded as the most frequent cause of whiplash. In fact, according to a report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (1995), 53% of the 5.5 million traffic accident victims suffered from a whiplash injury.

Other common causes of whiplash include:

  • Contact sport injuries
  • Accidental or intentional blows on the head
  • Repetitive stress injuries involving the neck, such as holding the phone with the neck
  • Child abuse, such as hitting or shaking the child  

Diagnosis and Treatment

The background of the injury and the patient’s description of the symptoms are first taken into account for the diagnosis. Though an MRI scan or a CT scan does not reflect a whiplash, x-rays are normally done when there is a chance of a fracture or a dislocation of the cervical spine.

Generally, the first line of treatment adopted for whiplash patients is the prescription of a soft cervical collar. The health care provider will normally advise the patient to wear this for at least 2 to 3 weeks.

The follow-up line of treatment includes:

  • Heat therapy for relief from muscle tension and pain
  • Medications such as analgesics including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and cyclo-oxygenase inhibitors (COX 2)
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Motion exercises and physical therapy
  • Ice packs, and the like

The Whiplash Syndrome

In some cases, patients of whiplash continue developing symptoms even after a whiplash trauma is over.

This condition is known as whiplash syndrome and is accompanied by continual headaches and pain, reduced movement at the back of the neck, tingling in arms, lumbar pains, fatigue, sleep disturbances and reduced libido.

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