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Whiplash occurs once the neck of an individual is whipped back and forward abruptly. The injury is considered the most common in rear-end vehicular collisions but it can also occur from sports injuries, physical abuse or riding amusement park rides.

Once the soft tissues, particularly the ligaments and muscles of the neck are overly extended beyond their normal range of motion, whiplash occurs. The symptoms are not evident initially, which is why it is important to pay close attention to any physical changes after the accident. Even though whiplash is considered as a mild condition, it can cause long-term discomfort and pain.

Symptoms of whiplash injury

The symptoms typically manifest within 24 hours after the accident

whiplash injury
Whiplash is characterized by neck pain and stiffness.

that causes the injury. Nevertheless, in some cases the symptoms can develop a few days after and can last for several weeks.

  • Pain in the neck and stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache at the base of the skull
  • Vision that is blurred
  • Fatigue

Less common symptoms linked with chronic whiplash include ringing in the ears, difficulty with concentration and memory, inability to sleep and irritability. It is important to consult with your doctor if the symptoms have spread to the arms or shoulders or if moving the head causes pain or there is weakness in the arms.

When to see a doctor

Majority of mild to moderate whiplash injuries can be treated at home using ice and over-the-counter medications. Nevertheless, it is important to seek medical care if symptoms such as pain or stiffness in the neck that persists, severe neck pain, bladder or bowel issues and numbness in the arms, legs are present.

Diagnosing a whiplash injury

Your doctor will ask questions regarding the incident, where the pain is, how it occurred and if the pain is sharp or dull. A physical examination is performed to check the range of motion and determine areas of tenderness.

An X-ray is requested in order to ensure that the pain is not linked to other types of injuries or diseases such as arthritis. MRI or CT scan might be requested to assess damage on the soft tissues, nerves or the spinal cord.

How a whiplash injury is treated

The treatment for a whiplash injury is simple. Over-the-counter pain medications are given. As for severe cases, it would require prescribed painkillers and muscle relaxants to minimize the muscle spasms.

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Aside from medication, physical therapy is required for better recovery. Ice or heat can be applied to the affected area and perform simple exercises to establish strength and flexibility in your neck.

A foam collar can be applied to provide stability to the neck. The collars must be used for more than 3 hours at a time and used during the initial days after the injury. Overusing the collars can shrink the neck muscles, thus extending the recovery period.

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