What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a non-medical term used to describe neck pain which has resulted from a soft tissue injury to the neck. It is a common injury that is caused by a traumatic incident such as a rear end car accident, where in the neck is extended beyond its typical range of motion causing an abrupt forward backward movement to the spine. This form of injury can cause significant pain and disability.
Whiplash Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of whiplash can include neck pain and stiffness, spasms, headaches, shoulder pain and stiffness, jaw pain, ringing in the ear, backpain, dizziness, fatigue and a loss of a range of motion in the neck.
If you suspect you may have whiplash your treating doctor can diagnose clinically by a thorough physical exam. The evaluation should include the observation of the your ability to move your head to the left and right, backward and forward and side to side. Your doctor will try to detect areas of pain and tension by observing and touching the muscles in your neck, head and upper back and shoulders. Strength, sensation and reflect testing should also be undertaken to detect and confirm any problems.
Soft tissues injuries such as whiplash cannot been seen on X-rays. Further specialised imaging such as CT Scans or an MRI may be recommended to ensure the accurate diagnosis of whiplash. However, they are not generally required as a doctor can usually diagnose with the physical exam.
If you have been diagnosed with Whiplash, then your Doctor will likely recommend over the counter pain medication. Additionally, you can attempt the following to minimise your pain;
- Ice – For some people, ice can reduce the severity of neck pain. It can be applied directly to the sore area of the neck. Ice can be frozen in a paper cup, and then the upper edge of the cup can be torn away. The ice should be moved continuously in strokes on the neck muscles for five to seven minutes.
- Heat – Heat can help to reduce pain in the neck. Moist heat can be applied for 10 to 15 minutes in a shower, hot bath, or with a moist towel warmed in a microwave. It is important to avoid overheating the towel and potentially injuring the skin, especially in people with poor skin sensation. The skin can become pigmented (discolored) in a blotchy pattern in people who use heat frequently.
- Massage –Massage can be helpful for relieving muscle spasm and can be performed after heating or icing the neck. Massage can be done with the hands by applying pressure to both sides of the neck and the upper back muscles, or with an electric hand-held vibrator. The neck muscles should be relaxed during massage by supporting the head or lying down. There are different types of massage, and people may differ in their tolerance of the pressure used.
- Physiotherapy – Physiotherapists can determine injury severity, assess joint movement, provide strengthening and stretching exercises and identify limitations and make recommendations for day to day activities.