Whiplash, also called neck sprain or neck strain, is injury to the neck. Whiplash is characterized by a collection of symptoms that occur following damage to the neck. In whiplash, the intervertebral joints (located between vertebrae), discs, and ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may become damaged.
What Causes Whiplash?
Whiplash is caused by an abrupt backward and/or forward jerking motion of the head, often as a result of a car accident.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Symptoms of whiplash may be delayed for 24 hours or more after the initial trauma. However, people who experience whiplash may develop one or more of the following symptoms, usually within the first few days after the injury:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
- Low back pain
- Pain or numbness in the arm and/or hand
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering
- Irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue
How Is Whiplash Diagnosed?
In most cases, injuries are to soft tissues such as the discs, muscles and ligaments, and cannot be seen on standard X-rays. Specialized imaging tests, such as CT scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be required to diagnose damage to the discs, muscles or ligaments that could be causing the symptoms of whiplash.
How Is Whiplash Treated?
No single treatment has been scientifically proven as effective for whiplash, but pain relief medications such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), along with gentle exercises, physical therapy, traction, massage, heat, ice, injections and ultrasound, all have been helpful for certain patients.
In the past, whiplash injuries were often treated with immobilization in a cervical collar. However, the current trend is to encourage early movement instead of immobilization. Ice is often recommended for the first 24 hours, followed by gentle, active movement.