What is Whiplash Injury?
Whiplash is a non-medical term describing a range of injuries to the neck caused by or related to sudden and abnormal motion to the neck. Whiplash is commonly associated with car accidents, motorcycle accidents and other motor vehicle accidents, usually when a motor vehicle has been hit in the rear and the head moves backwards then forwards; however, the injury can be sustained in many other ways, including from dog attacks and falls from chairs, bicycles or horses. Whiplash injury is one of the main injuries seen in car accidents and is covered by car insurers when resolving car accident claims.
The term "whiplash" reportedly was first used in 1928. The term "whiplash injury" describes damage to both the bone structures and soft tissues of the neck, while "whiplash associated disorders" describes a more severe and chronic condition.
A whiplash injury may be the result of abnormal stretching of the spine, mainly the anterior longitudinal ligament (the ligament that runs down the anterior surface of the spine) which is stretched or tears, as the head snaps backwards and then forward causing a whiplash type injury. These extreme motions push the neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion, causing injury.
Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Some people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, while others with whiplash injuries develop chronic conditions that can be extremely painful and disabling for years.
Fortunately, whiplash is typically not a life threatening injury, but it can be very painful, restrict range of motion and activities, including work activities leading to loss of earnings, and lead to a prolonged period of disability.
Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, medical care, prescription medications, physical therapy and exercises may be helpful. In more extreme cases, consultations are required with orthopedic surgeons, neurologists and/or neurosurgeons; and sometimes neck surgery, including cervical fusion, laminectomy or laminoplasty surgery, may be required.What Symptoms Should You Look for?
The most common symptoms related to whiplash injury from accidents include:
- Neck pain and stiffness, headache, shoulder pain and stiffness,
- Dizziness, fatigue, jaw pain (temporomandibular joint symptoms -- TMJ),
- Arm pain, arm numbness and weakness, visual disturbances, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and
- Back pain.
In the more severe and chronic case of "whiplash associated disorder", symptoms may include:
- Depression, anger, frustration, anxiety,
- Severe pain to neck, shoulder and arm, with weakness and numbness to arm,
- Stress, drug dependency, post-traumatic stress syndrome,
- Sleep disturbance (e.g., insomnia), social isolation.