There is no actual medical condition called “whiplash.” It’s a colloquial term used to describe neck sprain or strain. The name comes from the sudden back and forth movement of the head and neck during an accident, much like the cracking of a whip. This hyperextension of the neck involves ligaments, muscles, nerves, or discs. The formal term for whiplash is cervical acceleration-deceleration syndrome (CADs).
Whiplash victims may initially think they are fine after an accident. The pain and stiffness may not occur for up to 48 hours after the incident causing whiplash. While most people recover from whiplash within a few weeks, for some it can become a chronic condition.
The majority of whiplash injuries result from rear-ended vehicle accidents. Even low-speed collisions can cause severe whiplash. Keep in mind any sudden, violent movement to the head and neck may cause whiplash. Other common whiplash causes include sports injuries, with football or hockey being the primary culprits. Amusement park rides, especially roller coasters, are another prime source of whiplash. Falls account for many whiplash issues. Physical assault, such as taking a blow to the head, is the sort of powerful force causing whiplash injuries. Another cause of whiplash – bungee jumping.
While whiplash may affect anyone, seniors and women are the most vulnerable populations. If you have a pre-existing neck problem and suffer a potential whiplash-inducing incident, you have a higher risk for injury. If you’ve had whiplash before, you’re at additional risk if you experience unexpected head and neck movement.
Neck pain is not the only symptom of whiplash. Whiplash symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Lower or upper back pain
- Jaw pain
- Mood swings
- Limited range of motion
- Burning or tingling sensations
- Tinnitus – ringing in the ears
- Personality changes
Anyone involved in a motor vehicle accident should see a doctor as soon as possible, even if they do not think they hurt.
Most whiplash patients recover with conservative treatment. The doctor will recommend specific neck exercises to extend the range of motion or refer the patient to physical therapy. Because whiplash patients are more likely to experience future neck injuries, building up neck muscles’ strength is critical.
Chiropractic care for whiplash involves not only adjustments but the restoration of proper alignment to relieve pressure on the injured area. A thorough evaluation is performed to ensure a correct diagnosis.
Pain relief via over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or naproxen usually suffices, as does icing the affected area. For some patients, the short-term use of muscle relaxants or sleeping medications allows them to rest comfortably. The doctor may have the patient use a soft cervical collar temporarily.
Whiplash pain persisting for six months or more is considered chronic. At that point, the patient undergoes more testing to detect the cause of pain. Other treatments include nerve block injections, which offer weeks or months of pain relief. Less often, minimally invasive disc surgery is needed for long-term pain relief.