Whiplash: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

If you are suffering from neck pain or stiffness after a sudden impact injury, you may be wondering if you have whiplash.

What Causes Whiplash?

Whiplash can occur when your head and neck are suddenly forced backward/forward in one quick motion. Whiplash is commonly associated with car accidents. The impact of the car causes the sudden backward/forward snap that puts stress on your spine. 

Whiplash can also come from a head collision due to contact sports. It’s the forceful snapping motion that causes whiplash so even a blow in a physical fight can have the same effect.

How Whiplash Affects the Spine

The injury occurs in your cervical spine (the neck). Whiplash can cause the spine to be forced out of alignment. The bones and spinal discs can be affected, along with the soft tissues: the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that hold the spine in place, and the nerves that radiate from the spine throughout the body.

When the spine is out of alignment, the soft tissues surrounding the spine can become strained and stressed. The longer the condition goes undiagnosed, the more the soft tissues are affected. Tendon and ligament recovery takes time. It is important to diagnose whiplash as soon as possible so the recovery process can begin.

Symptoms of Whiplash

As with other injuries to the cervical spine (the neck), whiplash can have a wide range of symptoms. Pain and stiffness are common reactions, and the pain can extend down the spine to the lower back or out to the shoulders. Headaches are often associated with whiplash, although pain may also be localized in the neck or spinal area.

When the neck is out of alignment, and soft tissues are affected, you may also experience dizziness, blurred vision, or numbness that extends all the way to your fingers and up to your forehead. Numbness caused by a spinal injury can also affect your body internally, so it is important to begin diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

With whiplash, you may also have difficulty concentrating. Generalized fatigue may set in because of the trauma from the injury and the way the body is reacting.

Usually, you will be aware of the symptoms within 24 hours after an accident or injury, although sometimes symptoms may develop more slowly.

Treatment of Whiplash

If you think you might have whiplash following an accident or injury, it is important to have it diagnosed and treated. A diagnosis can rule out more severe injuries such as broken bones and torn soft tissue or discs. When you know the exact nature of the injury, you can take the right steps to heal your body. 

Even if no bones are broken and no tissues or discs are torn, whiplash should not be left undiagnosed. The longer you ignore spinal problems, the more your spine and soft tissues become stressed. This can affect your overall health. The proper functioning of your spine and nervous system are vital for overall good health. Whiplash can be effectively treated and the symptoms improved, so there is no reason to ignore the problem. 

Whiplash is often treated through pain medication, exercises designed to gradually restore range of motion, heat/cold therapy, as well as ultrasound. Each person and each injury is unique so the best treatment will be specific to what your spine needs for recovery.