October 12, 2020

What is whiplash — symptoms and treatment

Neck, Back and Spine | Sports Injury

Whiplash is a condition affecting your neck and spine. When your neck and head whips back and then forward, it causes a neck sprain and pain when you turn or nod your head. A sports injury or car accident is the most common cause of whiplash. In most cases, recovery will last a few weeks with conservative treatment and exercise.

Anatomy of the neck

The neck (cervical spine) is composed of vertebrae bones and discs that connect the upper torso and base of the skull. The cervical spine provides stability to the neck while allowing motion to occur. 

Also, each vertebra has an opening that forms the spinal canal, through which the spinal cord passes. Your spinal cord and nerves travel through the spinal canal carrying messages between your brain and muscles. 

Whiplash is when your neck muscles and tendons are damaged from extending too far, too quickly.


Whiplash injury cause

Whiplash injuries occur when your head and neck are thrown forward and back quickly and forcefully. 

This injury may be caused by:

What does whiplash feel like?

Sometimes, you won’t feel whiplash symptoms directly after your accident. It may take a few days for neck pain and stiffness to start bothering you.

Some other symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Worsening pain with movement
  • Headaches, beginning at the base of the skull
  • Fatigue
  • Ringing in your ears
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Sleeplessness

Whiplash symptoms can also be related to other medical issues. Contact your physician if symptoms persist or worsen.


How do you know if you have whiplash?

To determine whether you have whiplash, your spine doctor will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray or MRI may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis and determine if there are other problems.


How to treat whiplash

Whiplash treatment is nonoperative and usually includes neck exercises to restore your range of motion. Depending on how bad your whiplash is, your treatment plan will vary. Discuss your whiplash treatment plan with your doctor.

Your physician may recommend:

  • Over the counter pain medication
  • Hot or cold pack
  • Rest
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Using a foam neck brace or collar

Exercises will be helpful to your recovery. The muscles and tendons in your neck have been stretched too far and need to restore their normal range of motion. Applying heat or taking a warm shower before exercising to loosen the muscles may also be recommended by your physician. 

Common exercises may include:

  • Neck rotation in both directions
  • Rolling your shoulders
  • Bending your neck forward, toward your chest
  • Tilting your head from side to side

If your whiplash persists after exercising and non-operative treatment, or you need help with your exercises, your physician may suggest physical therapy. 

Schedule an appointment 

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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