Whiplash is a neck and spine injury most typically caused by a rear end collision in a motor vehicle accident (MVA). It can also be caused by a blow to the head, a sports injury, or a slip and fall. Whiplash occurs as a result of a rapid back and forth stretch to the structures of the neck and/or back that includes the joints, muscles, ligaments, nerves and intervertebral discs. It doesn’t take a lot of force or high speeds for an injury to occur. Many low impact collisions, even those at speeds as low as five to 10 miles per hour can cause injury. Older people and those who already have spine problems are most at risk.
Symptoms of whiplash can present immediately, while at other times there can be a lag in the development of symptoms. Typical symptoms include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Shoulder and/or back pain
- Numbness of the extremities
- Visual disturbances
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Concussion, which can occur with or without hitting your head. Concussions can cause blurred vison, inability to concentrate, memory dysfunction, vertigo or balance disturbance, and anxiety and depression.
If you’re involved in an MVA, after receiving any necessary immediate medical attention, here are some things you can do at home to manage the symptoms of whiplash:
- Apply ice for 15 minutes as often as possible for the first 48-72 hours to the affected area of the neck. After that, apply moist heat for 15 minutes every two to three hours. Be sure to wrap the ice or heat pack in a towel to protect your skin.
- Rest in the acute phase of the injury only. As you begin to recover, you should resume light, low impact physical activity such as walking and stretching. Resting for more than a few days can cause more damage and prolong pain.
- Move your neck gently to help prevent further stiffness.
- Maintain good posture while sitting, standing and sleeping to reduce stress on the spine joints and muscles.
- If you are working at a computer or desk take frequent breaks to stretch and move around.
- Avoid cradling the telephone between you head and shoulder.
- Avoid carrying heavy packages, especially things like a purse or back-pack slung over only one shoulder.
If your symptoms do not subside or worsen, you should seek further medical attention.