Understanding Whiplash

Understanding WhiplashWhiplash is an injury to the neck caused by a forceful and rapid back and forth movement of the head that is much like the cracking of a whip. This painful yank and tossing of the neck can really hurt the ligaments, muscles and skin of the neck. This neck injury mostly occurs during rear-end car accidents, but may also result from a sports accident or other form of trauma. Luckily, whiplash is rarely serious though it can be quite painful during your recovery.

Symptoms and Signs

The most common signs and symptoms of whiplash to look out for include neck pain, stiffness and headaches. Though most recover from whiplash after a few months, some experience ongoing complications if you do not follow through with proper care and treatment. Other symptoms and signs of whiplash that may occur are:

  • Tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back or arms

  • Tingling or numbness in the arms

  • Fatigue or dizziness

  • Blurred vision

  • Ringing in the ears

  • Difficulty concentrating and memory problems

Common Causes

Typically Whiplash occurs when a person’s head is forcefully and quickly thrown backward and forward. This motion can injure the bones in the spine, the disks between the bones in the spine, ligaments, muscles, nerves, and other tissues of the neck area. Due to this unusual type of movement, there isn’t a large variety of actions that can cause whiplash despite being such a widely known condition.

Car accidents – The most common of cause of all whiplash is being in a rear-end collision since this is the easiest way to cause this kind of range of motion.

Physical assault – Being punched or shaken can also cause whiplash injuries if it causes an intense back and forth motion. This tends to only occurs for children and babies that are shaken or a pretty hard punch to the head.

Contact sports – A football tackle or other kind of sports-related collision can sometimes cause whiplash injuries. This is not incredibly common, but is not impossible either if they collide hard enough with another player.

If you had been in an accident, you should always seek medical attention immediately after to ensure quick treatment. Whiplash and several other accident related injuries are not always noticeable at first and you may not feel symptoms immediately afterwards. Though whiplash is rarely severe, it is still better to be safe rather than sorry. This is especially important since many other severe conditions, such as Traumatic Brain disorder, can have similar symptoms to whiplash.


Whiplash typically doesn’t require any intense form of treatment. Most can be taken care of with over the counter drugs and home care. However, a few may need prescription drugs and some specialized pain treatment. In order to lessen your pain, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

Rest – Rest is especially important during the first 24 hours after the injury. However, prolonging best rest after this time frame could be more harmful than helpful.
Apply ice or heat – You can apply an ice or heat pack to your neck for 15 minutes at a time for up to 6 times a day to relieve neck pain.
Over the counter pain medications – Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen can be used to control mild to moderate whiplash pain.
Prescription painkillers – If your pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe short-term medication to help with pain management.
Muscle relaxants – If your pain is keeping you from sleep, you doctor may prescribe short-term muscle relaxants in order to control pain and help you sleep at night during recovery.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

Most likely, your doctor will prescribe a series of movement and stretching exercises in order to restore a range of motion in your neck and enable you to resume normal activities. You might be advised to apply moist heat or to take a warm shower before exercise in order to relax the muscles. If you have a more severe form of whiplash, you may need to see a physical therapist to assist with movement exercises and to ensure that you are healing at a safe rate.

Along with your doctor recommend care and treatment, chiropractic care and massage therapy may also provide pain relief as well.


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