FAQ’s on Whiplash
What is whiplash?
Neck pain is one of the more common reasons for a medical consult. This can be caused by benign conditions such as strain to the muscles, or may indicate conditions that need more serious consideration. Whiplash is a specific term for the injury that follows a sudden movement of the head and neck.
What causes whiplash?
This often follows rear impact while the patient is sitting in a stationary position, like in automobile accidents, but any accident that causes your head to jerk back and forth can potentially cause whiplash injury. The rear impact forces the neck into a hyperextended position as the body moves forward while the head and neck are thrown back; this is soon followed by hyperflexion, as the head and neck rebound to the forward position. It is this abnormal position, aggravated by the speed of the injury, that is theorized to cause damage to the ligaments, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues of the cervical vertebrae.
It is important to note that if you have been involved in an automobile accident, you should seek consult with a physician, even if there are no symptoms of injury. Symptoms of traumatic brain injury may have delayed onset, and it is better err on the side of caution to prevent injury after accidents.
What are the symptoms of whiplash?
The injury manifests itself as pain, decreased range of motion, and subjective tightness in the neck. The pain is aggravated by movement of the neck. Tenderness and knottiness of the muscles may also be noted on the affected area.
Other areas may be affected by whiplash. Whiplash has also been shown to cause temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs). Patients who suffer from chronic whiplash associated injury have been shown to suffer from some cognitive dysfunctions. Pain and numbness may also be felt in the arm or shoulders.
How long the symptoms last depends on a variety of factors related to the nature and severity of the injury. Most symptoms resolve within weeks to one month post-injury; however, the actual recovery time varies per patient. Normal daily activities may quickly be resumed for most people, although it may take several months to fully recover and achieve full function. It is estimated that 3-5% patients with whiplash will still have disabling injuries after a year of recovery.
How can I treat whiplash injury?
Immediately after injury, you have to focus on controlling swelling and inflammation. It is recommended that you place cold compress for 30 minutes every 8 hours for the first 48 hours after sustaining the injury. After this phase, you may begin warm compress for 30 minutes every 8 hours to relieve the pain symptoms. You may be prescribed anti-inflammatory and analgesic medications.
It is not always advised to wear a neck brace or a collar, and recent studies have demonstrated that immobilization may actually slow down the healing process. Patients who are involved in range of motion exercises early in their recovery period have shown reliable improvement in outcomes. Several cognitive therapies have also been proposed, but need more exploration.
Ferrari R, Louw D. (2013). Effect of a pain diary use on recovery from acute whiplash injury: a cohort study. Journal of Zhejiang University-SCIENCE B (Biomedicine & Biotechnology). doi: 10.1631/jzus.B1300022
Häggman-Henrikson B, Rezvani M, List T. (2014). Prevalence of whiplash trauma in TMD patients: a systematic review. Journal of Oral Rehabilitation. doi: 10.1111/joor.12123
Meeus M, Van Oosterwijck J, Ickmans K, et al. (2013). Interrelationships between pain processing, cortisol and cognitive performance in chronic whiplash-associated disorders. Clinical Rheumatology. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24337691