Whiplash also called neck sprain or strain is caused by sudden movement of the head forward, backwards or sideways which could occur after sudden impact in a road accident wherein the vigorous movement tends to damage the ligaments and tendons in the neck.
Tendons are the fibrous, tough bands which connect muscles to the bone while ligaments are the fibrous connective tissue which link two bones together at a joint. In whiplash, the intervertebral joints, those which are between the vertebrae discs and ligaments, cervical muscles and the nerve roots may get damaged.
People get affected by whiplash when they experience an abrupt backward or a forwards jerking motion of the head in an accident and the symptoms may not show or could be delayed for 24 hours or more even after the trauma.
But some people may develop one or more symptoms within the first few days after injury like stiffness and neck pain, headaches, lower back pain, dizziness, pain or numb feeling in the arm or hand, difficulty in concentrating and remembering, pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades and irritability, fatigue and sleep interruptions.
Road Accidents/Sudden Blow/Fall or Slip – Causes
Road traffic accidents being the main cause of whiplash, due to the sudden stopping impact of the collision results in the sudden violent head movement. With this violent impact of the forward, backwards or sideways movement, ligaments and tendons tend to get damaged resulting in this ailment.
Low speed collisions may also lead to whiplash. Besides road accidents, whiplash could also be due to sudden blow to the head especially during a boxing game, rugby or sports. A fall or a slip wherein the head tends to get affected due to a violent and sudden jolt backwards could also be the cause of whiplash, or being struck on the head by a solid and a heavy object.
No specific treatment has been scientifically proven to be effective for whiplash though pain relief medication with gentle exercises, physical therapy, massage, heat, ice, traction, injections and ultrasound could be helpful for some people
Diagnosis Based on Symptoms
Whiplash injuries earlier were treated with immobilization in a cervical collarthough the present trend is encouragement of movement instead of immobilization. Ice is also recommended within the first 24 hours of the impact which could be followed with gentle movement.
If the neck pain is painful, it is essential to keep it mobile from the early stage which could improve its functions and quicken the recovery. It is better to move the neck by using a neck brace or collar instead of keeping it still.
Diagnosis of whiplash is often done based on the condition and injury of the ailment through a series of tests and scans like x-rays, computerised tomography –CT, or magnetic resonance imaging –MRI is done incase of a fracture or any other problem. Whiplash usually tends to get better on its own or after following some basic treatment.
Whiplash that lasts for six months or beyond is called chronic whiplash or late whiplash syndrome and the treatment plan would be based on the symptoms and if the pain tends to be severe, the physician would recommend stronger painkiller or the option of physiotherapy.