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What Is Whiplash & How Do I Treat It?

What is whiplash?guy in pain
Whiplash is a common complaint for anyone unfortunate enough to be involved in a road traffic accident. According to the NHS website, it is caused when:
The vigorous movement of the head overstretches and damages the tendons and ligaments in the neck.”

Other causes of whiplash may include:

  • A sudden blow to the head (for example, during contact sports such as rugby);
  • A slip or a fall;
  • Being struck on the head by a heavy object.

Although whiplash is not a life threatening injury, it can be an extremely unpleasant and uncomfortable experience for the patient. In the worse case scenario, whiplash may even lead to a prolonged period of disability: whilst most victims are soon on the road to recovery, others may experience symptoms for much longer.

What are the symptoms?
It is important to note that the symptoms of whiplash may not appear immediately following the original trauma. In fact, it can take between 6-12 hours for them to develop, with the pain and stiffness continuing to worsen over the following days Medicenenet.com lists the common symptoms of whiplash as follows:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headache
  • Shoulder pain and stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Jaw pain
  • Arm pain and/or weakness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Back pain

More severe symptoms, in chronic cases, may include:

  • Depression
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Drug dependency
  • Post-traumatic stress syndrome
  • Sleep disturbance (insomnia)

How is it diagnosed?
Whiplash can be diagnosed by a GP or hospital Dr following an initial examination. Tests aren’t usually required, but the Dr will want to know how the injury occurred, in addition to as much information as possible about the symptoms. He/she may also:
examine your neck for signs of muscle spasms and tenderness and assess the range of movement in your neck.”

If the Dr suspects that a more serious injury may have occurred, the patient may also be sent for scans or x-rays:

“The most important first step is to make sure there is no major injury to the neck, head or the rest of the body requiring immediate treatment.”

What is the treatment?
The good news is that, in most cases of whiplash, the symptoms should begin to either improve on their own, or with some basic treatment. GP’s will assess individuals on a case-by-case basis for the best course of action, which may include:

  • Advising the patient to move his/her neck, rather than keeping it still with a brace or collar. The NHS website explains that:
    Your neck may be painful but keeping it mobile from an early stage will improve its functionality and speed up your recovery”
  • Taking painkillers (for example, paracetamol or ibuprofen for milder pain; or stronger ones, such as codeine, may be prescribed in more severe cases)
  • Depending upon the severity of the symptoms, there is also a chance that the Dr may recommend physiotherapy

You can read more about how whiplash is treated, including in the instance that the patient begins to develop any psychological symptoms, here.

Chronic whiplash
Whilst most cases of whiplash should clear up without any lasting damage, in some patients the symptoms may be severe or longer lasting (up to 6 months or more). In this instance, the injury may impact upon the individual’s ability to work or enjoy leisure time: potentially causing anxiety and depression as a result. Where chronic whiplash is diagnosed, a GP may recommend a more intensive treatment programme, or even referral to a specialist.

Do remember that it is imperative that you see your GP if you are suffering from any chronic neck pains that are affecting your ability to work or carry out everyday tasks. 

Have you ever suffered from whiplash, or suspected that you may have done? What treatment/s did you receive and how long did it take for your condition to improve?

We do not endorse any research, studies or sources mentioned within our blogs and comments. Furthermore, we do not endorse any medical advice provided, and would strongly recommend anyone seeking medical advice to contact their local healthcare provider.

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