The term whiplash refers to a neck injury caused by a sudden movement of the neck which usually comes in the form of sprained ligaments. Although these ligaments are not torn, the symptoms of whiplash could potentially last for weeks or even take months to subside.
The majority of whiplash cases result from road traffic accidents where the head is thrown back and then whipped forward. The vehicles need only be moving at a minimal speed to cause a whiplash injury. The injury might also be a result of some force to the head, normally during sporting activities such as boxing or rugby.
The symptoms of whiplash might not appear straight after the injury has occurred. In most cases, it takes up to 12 hours to become aware of the symptoms with most of the stiffness setting in the day following the injury.
Common symptoms include pain and stiffness in the neck, swelling, tenderness, reduced or no mobility in the neck and headaches. In more severe cases of whiplash, one might experience memory loss, blurred vision or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Most sufferers of whiplash will see their symptoms subside in a month. This form of whiplash is referred to as acute whiplash. Those who experience symptoms for period of six months or more are said to be suffering from chronic whiplash. In many cases, this form may result in the development of other ailments such as anxiety and depression.
A diagnosis of whiplash is usually given on description of symptoms. A doctor may test the mobility of the neck and check for signs of swelling or spasms. It is unlikely that an X-Ray or a CT scan will be necessary unless it is believed that other injuries might have occurred.
As the body is fast acting in healing a whiplash injury, medical treatment is minimal. The doctor will request exercise and mobilisation to aid in the recovery process. This is likely to be painful but has been proved to speed both recovery and mobility significantly. Painkillers may be prescribed.
Physiotherapy has proven incredibly valuable in the healing process. The physiotherapist may use massage and manipulation to aid your body and will design a custom set of exercises for you to do at your appointments and at home.
In cases of chronic whiplash, where symptoms last for six months or longer, the dosage of painkillers may be increased accordingly. Mobility will still be the focus of treatment in these cases. A doctor may recommend a course of therapy or antidepressants should signs of anxiety or depression appear.
The most important element of treatment is constant participation and motivation from the patient. Focus on posture, a support pillow and yoga will aid your body in healing itself. You must remember that, although it is painful, mobility exercises in early days of treatment will make the process shorter and help achieve maximum results.