FAQ’s on Whiplash

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck often caused by a sudden impact that causes the neck to bend backward (hyperextension) and for the head to rebound forward (hyperflexion). This movement causes the spine to go beyond its normal physiological range of motion and thus damages the intervertebral joints (in between the vertebrae), tendons, and ligaments which can lead to significant pain for the patient.

What Are the Common Causes of Whiplash?

The most common cause is an impact from behind to a patient who is seated. This normally occurs for those patients who are present during vehicular accidents, particularly rear-end collisions. And contrary to initial experiments conducted in the 1950s and 60s, whiplash isn’t just caused by large impact collisions. Current studies in Japan suggest that even low impact collisions can result to whiplash. Although there is no hyperextension or hyperflexion that occurs in the neck, the vertebrae would be force into an unnaturally straight position potentially causing the discs to be pinched together.

Whiplash can also occur in recreational activities such as sports or even riding theme park rides such as roller coasters and bump cars.

What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

The symptom experienced by many patients is simply pain within the neck, coupled with partial loss of movement. The pain is most likely concentrated throughout the span of the shoulders and the regions of the upper back, but may also be felt on the neck itself and throughout the head in certain patients. The muscles around this area will often be sore and tender, especially between the shoulder blades with visible bruising on the flesh.

Neurological symptoms: In cases where there are nerve root impingements, neurological symptoms may occur in the patient. Examples of these are blurred or impaired vision, ringing in the ears, dizziness, numbness in the arms, inability to concentrate, and disturbance in memory.

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

It is common for patients to ask how their case of whiplash may be diagnosed by a physician when often there is yet to be a visible symptom. And the answer is: Since for many patients it takes about 6 – 12 hours for symptoms of whiplash to develop, diagnosis of whiplash depends mostly on the patient’s description on his or her symptoms. And after an initial diagnosis has been made, the doctor in most cases recommends a CT scan for the patient. This is to allow for the examination of the neck, often because torn tissues, muscles, and ligaments cannot be seen in standard X-ray. In severe cases an MRI can be performed, especially if the physician believes there is the possibility of a spinal injury.

How can Whiplash be treated?

For first aid:
Reduce the movement of the neck and head. It’s ideal to put a soft neck collar around the neck to limit movement. Ice will be placed on the affected area. It’s recommended to ice it for the first 48 – 72 hours upon sustaining the injury.

For recovery:

Many patients will be suggested to change their mattress to a firm one to add support to the spine. This will greatly reduce the stress placed on the neck and shoulders from the injury. Limit movement of the head and neck in order to not put extra strain on them while healing. Patients are suggested to avoid heavy lifting or brisk activities for the first couple of days after the injury, as putting extra strain on your spine may prolong your recovery.

Patients will begin with light exercises for the neck after two to three weeks.Stretching the neck up and down and side to side a few minutes a day for starters can slowly restore the spine’s range of motion for many patients. This will often be monitored by a physical therapist to ensure no further injury is sustained.