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What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a soft tissue injury that can happen when your neck bends suddenly and forcibly forward and backward. The motion is very similar to when someone cracks a whip, hence the name “whiplash.” Also known as a neck sprain or neck strain, whiplash involves muscles, discs, nerves or tendons in the neck being pushed beyond their normal range of motion. Whiplash injuries can be mild to severe depending on the amount of force behind your injury, and they are most often associated with automobile accidents.

Whiplash symptoms normally subside within a few days or weeks. Most patients recover within three months after the injury, although some may continue to have residual neck pain and headaches.

Symptoms

If you experience whiplash, you may have one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Back pain
  • Dizziness
  • Pain  or numbness in an arm and/or hand
  • Abnormal sensations such as burning or prickling
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Blurred vision
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Tiredness
  • Depression

Whiplash symptoms can possibly resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your physician for an accurate diagnosis.

Causes

Most whiplash injuries are the result of a collision that includes sudden acceleration or deceleration. Many whiplash injuries occur as a result of rear-end automobile collisions, when your head is suddenly forced back and forth. Causes of whiplash can include sports injuries, particularly during contact sports. Any situation that can create a sudden and extreme impact on your body has the potential of being a cause of whiplash.

Treatment options

If you’ve been diagnosed with whiplash, your treatment may include pain medications, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and/or a cervical collar worn for two to three weeks. Range-of-motion exercises, physical therapy, and/or cervical traction may also be prescribed as part of your whiplash treatment. Supplemental heat application may also relieve muscle tension.

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