Whiplash is a fairly common injury to the soft tissues of the neck caused by strains on the ligaments and muscles from a sudden jerking of the head. This occurs when the neck goes beyond its normal range of motion. Whiplashes are typically associated with automobile accidents. When an automobile comes to a sudden stop due to getting hit from the back or in a crash, the seat belt resists the body from moving. However, there is nothing to protect the head or to stop it from moving. Thus, the head may snap forward then backward, or vice-versa, resulting to a whiplash injury. Its motion resembles a whip, calling it such. Most cases of whiplash can heal within a few weeks’ time but in some cases, chronic pain may develop. Although it is not typically a fatal injury, it may produce discomfort.
What can Cause Whiplash?
As previously mentioned, automobile accidents are the most commonly associated cause of whiplash. The other less common causes of whiplash include:
- Contact sports such as, football
- Riding roller coasters and other amusement park rides
- Physical abuse
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
In majority of the cases, initial symptoms will develop within the first 24 hours after the injury. Some of the most common symptoms are the following:
- Neck stiffness and pain
- Difficulty moving the neck or facing the sides
- Jaw/ shoulder/ arm/ back pain
- Headaches, commonly occurs at the skull base
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Sleep disturbances
- Ringing in the ears
When to Seek Medical Advice
Although whiplash is not typically considered a medical emergency, in cases where any of the following symptoms manifest after an injury, it may be better to seek medical advice:
- Pain moves to the head
- Pain spreads to the shoulder and/ or arms
- Nerve problems, including weakness, tingling and numbness in the arms
How is First Aid Managed in Whiplash?
Giving first aid in cases of whiplash can significantly help in reducing the symptoms. The following protocol is generally recommended by the National Institute of Health (2013):
- Avoid doing any physical activity that may aggravate the symptoms for the first few days.
- Take over-the-counter pain medicals such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- It is commonly advices to apply ice to the affected area for the first 48-72 hours after the injury. Do not apply ice directly to the skin but instead wrap with a towelette. After such time, apply hot compresses, heating pads or hot showers.
- The doctor may advise slow range-of-motion exercises to slightly stretch neck muscles.
- Gently massage the painful areas.
- Sleep on a firm mattress while using a special neck pillow or without a pillow.
Disclaimer: This article does not provide medical advice or treatment. This information given should not be used for self-diagnosis of whiplash. Seek medical attention when needed. To learn more about how to manage whiplash and other tissue pains in the body, enrol in First Aid Courses with workplace approved training.
Whiplash (2013). National Institute of Health. Retrieved September 19, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/index.html