Home > Health Library > Whiplash
Whiplash is pain and stiffness
in the neck after an injury that has caused the neck to move suddenly or beyond
its normal range.
It occurs when the head is suddenly forced
backward or forward and is then snapped in the other direction. This kind of
motion most often happens to people in a car that is hit from behind. Less
commonly, it might happen in a fall, a sports injury, or if you are roughly
shaken. The motion causes stretching or tears (sprains) of muscles and
ligaments in the neck, and it may damage the nerves. In rare cases, it may
cause broken bones.
Symptoms of whiplash are pain and stiffness in
the neck and sometimes in the muscles in your head, chest, shoulders, and arms.
You also may have a headache, feel dizzy, and have pain in your back.
You may not have any symptoms until the day after your injury. Or your
symptoms may go away but then return a few days later.
have a more serious injury if you have:
Your doctor will ask questions about your neck injury and past health,
and he or she will carefully examine your head and neck. You may need X-rays to
make sure there are no broken bones in your neck. You may also need an imaging
test such as an MRI or CT scan to look for other injuries.
Most whiplash improves with
home treatment. Things you can do include:
It takes up to 3 months for the neck to heal, even though
most pain may be gone in less time. More severe whiplash may take longer, but
it usually improves within 6 to 12 months.
After your neck pain is
gone, do exercises to stretch your neck and back and make them stronger. Your
doctor or physical therapist can tell you which exercises are best.
prevent whiplash when you drive, always wear your seat belt and adjust your
headrest to the proper height.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Cervical strain. In JF Sarwark, ed., Essentials of Musculoskeletal Care, 4th ed., pp. 929–933. Rosemont, IL: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
Binder A (2008). Neck pain, search date May 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.
November 19, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
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