Whiplash Injury

Whiplash is a neck injury that can occur during rear-end automobile collisions, when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward - similar to the motion of someone cracking a whip. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion.

Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, prescription medications and physical therapy may be helpful.

Most people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, but some people may develop chronic pain after a whiplash injury.

Causes:

Whiplash typically occurs when a person's head is thrown backward and then forward, straining the neck's muscles and ligaments. This type of injury may result from:

  • Auto accidents. Rear-end collisions are the most common cause of whiplash.
  • Physical abuse. Whiplash may also result from incidents of being punched or shaken. Whiplash is one of the injuries sustained in shaken baby syndrome.
  • Contact sports. Football tackles and other sports-related collisions can sometimes cause whiplash injuries.

Symptoms:

Most whiplash symptoms develop within 24 hours of the injury and may include:

  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headaches, most commonly at the base of the skull
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue

Some people also experience:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability

When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor promptly if:

  • The pain spreads to your shoulders or arms
  • It becomes painful to move your head
  • You experience numbness, tingling or weakness in your arms

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