Whiplash is an injury caused by sudden extension of the neck. It’s a common injury developed by those involved in car accidents, because when cars collide, the force whips your neck back and forth rapidly.
However, this back and forth movement of the neck can also be caused by physical assaults (such as when someone violently shakes your shoulders), contact sports, or falls.
Most whiplash sufferers improve over the course of a few weeks, but if your symptoms persist beyond that period, you may need to see a specialist to rule out more serious injuries that could cause long-term damage.
Below, we asked Dr. Bonaventure Ngu, our expert at Premier Spine Institute, to explain how whiplash may manifest itself and what you can do to improve your symptoms.
Whiplash stretches or tears the muscles of the upper back as well as the discs and ligaments in the spine. Most people experience symptoms within 24 hours, but a few days may pass before symptoms become noticeable.
Although whiplash is usually not serious, and the injuries are often limited to the soft tissue, it can lead to pain and stiffness in the neck, tenderness in the shoulders, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, and dizziness for prolonged periods.
Less common symptoms include tinnitus (ear ringing), blurred vision, and poor concentration. These issues can develop when the rapid back and forth movement damages the nerves in your head and at the base of your neck.
Symptoms that may indicate the injury is serious include pain that doesn’t improve with rest and shooting pain or numbness that radiates to the arms.
During your appointment, you can expect a full neurological examination, a physical examination, and imaging to detect any other possible injuries in the neck.
A consultation also helps detect more serious issues. For example, ruptured tendons can imitate the symptoms of whiplash. Dr. Ngu uses imaging tests to detect ruptured tendons and determine whether you need surgery.
During the physical examination, Dr. Ngu checks your posture for any misalignments, palpates your neck area for signs of tenderness or tension, and tests your ability to move your neck. He may also test your reflexes in your neck with a rubber hammer to determine whether your nerves have been damaged by the injury.
Treatment for whiplash is usually conservative. It includes pain medications, muscle relaxants, and physical therapy. In some cases, we may also recommend a collar to stabilize your neck.
About 3 million Americans get whiplash every year. If you suspect you have whiplash, contact us to schedule an appointment at the Premier Spine Institute.
Left untreated, whiplash can cause uncomfortable symptoms for weeks and even months at a time. However, under the guidance of Dr. Ngu, you’ll get all the help you need to speed up the healing process and reduce your pain.