Health MattersSports Injuries

Common Risks and Signs of Whiplash

 

Common Risks and Signs of Whiplash

The likelihood of experiencing whiplash may increase when a person has a collision with a vehicle larger than his or her own vehicle

Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip. 

Whiplash most often occurs during a rear-end auto accident, but the injury can also result from a sports accident, physical abuse or other trauma.

Common signs and symptoms of whiplash include neck pain, stiffness, and headaches. 

Most people with whiplash get better within a few weeks by following a treatment plan that includes pain medication and exercise. 

However, some people have chronic neck pain and other long-lasting complications.

Whiplash may be called a neck sprain or strain, but these terms also include other types of neck injuries.

Symptoms of Whiplash:

The primary symptom of whiplash is neck or upper back pain. 

The pain can start immediately or develop days, weeks, or sometimes even months later. Symptoms can vary widely among individuals. 

Some may only suffer minor discomfort while others experience one or more of the following:

  • Tightness or spasms of the muscles the neck or upper back
  • Pain with movement of the neck, headache, and dizziness (symptoms of a concussion)
  • Difficulty swallowing and chewing and hoarseness (could indicate injury to the esophagus and larynx)
  • Abnormal sensations such as burning or tingling
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper back pain

Other symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Depression

Severe whiplash can also include injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles and nerve of the neck or upper back. 

Fortunately, with time, the vast majority of people who have had a whiplash injury fully recover.

Causes of Whiplash:

Whiplash typically occurs when your head is forcefully and quickly thrown backward and then forward. 

This motion can injure bones in the spine, discs between the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and other tissues of the neck.

A whiplash injury may result from:

  • Auto accidents. Rear-end collisions are a major cause of whiplash.
  • Physical abuse or assault. Whiplash can occur if you are punched or shaken. It’s one of the injuries seen in shaken baby syndrome.
  • Contact sports. Football tackles and other sports-related collisions can sometimes cause whiplash.

Complications as a result of Whiplash:

Most people who have whiplash feel better within a few weeks. However, some people continue to have pain for several months or years after the injury occurred.

It is difficult to predict how each person with whiplash may recover. 

In general, you may be more likely to have chronic pain if your first symptoms were intense, started rapidly and included:

  • Severe neck pain
  • Headaches
  • Pain that spread to the arms

The following risk factors have been linked to a worse outcome:

  • Having had whiplash before
  • Older age
  • Existing low back or neck pain
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