What is Whiplash? Neck Sprain after Car Accident

Whiplash is a common term used to refer to the neck pain caused by injury of the soft tissue, namely the ligaments, tendons and muscles. While whiplash is commonly associated with a motor vehicle accident, many other mechanisms of action may cause whiplash. During a rear end collision, the inertia of moving body suddenly stopping and changing direction often causes the neck to ‘snap’ back. This sudden jerking movement associated with a whiplash injury can put a significant amount of strain on the soft tissue. Whiplash can also result from front and side impact collisions, however, there is a greater severity of the neck sprain after rear impact.

What does whiplash feel like?

Symptoms of Whiplash

The symptoms of a whiplash are usually reported as aches and pains of the neck and back. In severe cases this pain may refer down the arms, causing a disturbance in sensation often described as “pins and needles”. Many whiplash sufferers report persistent headaches for a few weeks after the incident. Rarely, jaw pain, visual disturbances, nausea and vomiting may result due to whiplash. The symptoms of a whiplash may not appear immediately and many sufferers report the first symptoms within 24 to 48 hours.

How do I know if I have whiplash?

Examination & Diagnosis of Whiplash

Head Jerking in Car Collision Causing Whiplash
Head Jerking in Car Collision Causing Whiplash

Diagnosis of whiplash is usually based on the case history, the patient’s report of symptoms and physical examination. Neck tenderness with multiple trigger points indicating severe muscle spasm is often present. The range of motion of the neck may be affected as well. A neurological examination may also indicate sensory disturbances although this is not often seen in most cases of whiplash. An x-ray usually does not indicate any physical abnormalities although in severe cases of whiplash, a herniated disc may be present.

How is whiplash treated

Treatment of Whiplash

Treatment of whiplash usually involves the use of anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants. Immobilizing the neck by the use of a padded cervical collar for at least 2 to 3 weeks is beneficial and should be considered in every case of whiplash where the patient reports symptoms. Physical therapy and chiropractic treatment can be considered and stretching or soft tissue manipulation proves useful in reducing the severity of symptoms. Generally a case of whiplash will resolve spontaneously within 4 to 6 weeks if there are no further complications.

Many practitioners argue whether medical intervention is truly required in a case of whiplash. It is advisable that if there are no known complications, the whiplash should be left untreated except for neck immobilization and painkillers. Physical therapy in a case of whiplash has been known to aggravate symptoms especially in the hands of an inexperienced practitioner.

Whiplash is a result of an sudden occurrence that causes a jerking motion of the neck. If you are experiencing any symptoms after such an incident (motor vehicle accident, impact sports or falls), it is advisable to seek medical attention to rule out any complications. While the symptoms of whiplash can be quite uncomfortable and restrictive, it should be remembered that whiplash spontaneously resolves in most cases.

Always ensure that your whiplash is diagnosis, treated and managed by a medical professional, especially if you are considering any form of litigation for your motor vehicle car accident. Consult with your lawyer or legal team as to which practitioners would be considered legitimate authorities in the case of any medico-legal proceedings.

One thought on “What is Whiplash? Neck Sprain after Car Accident

  • July 26, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    I was rear ended almost a yr ago I was at a red light when a car hit me going approx 45-50 mph I suffered whiplash I went to physical therapy for 6 weeks and I was then referred back to my dr for final examination . At that point I didn’t feel the pain as much then just about 1 week ago I noticed a lot of different things going on my neck makes a lot of clicking sounds when I bend my head back , I have experienced some small reflex spasms on my knees or lower legs that cause me to slightly move my foot also my neck will twitch just for no reason . I have headache more often . Is it possible what I’m experiencing is the result of an underlining injury from my accident a yr ago . How long can whiplash affect someone after an accident . I’m 45 yrs old and I also suffered a back injury in a hiking accident in 2008 where I comp fractured my T 11 and T 12 in my spine I wore a back brace for 6 months but was told my vertebrae never healed properly that it’s at an angle and will always stay that way can u please help and give me some advice


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