Whiplash is a common injury which affects the neck; it is caused when the neck is suddenly jolted forwards, sideways or backwards. Most whiplash injuries are caused by car or motorbike accidents but they may also be caused by sports injuries which involve a sudden blow to the head.
What are the effects of whiplash?
The sudden jolt of the neck causes the ligaments and tendons around the neck to become strained; the ligaments are stretched beyond their limits when the head suddenly jerks in a certain direction. Common symptoms associated with whiplash injuries include:
- Pain in the neck
- Stiffness around the neck
- Restricted movement around the neck
- Tenderness around the neck and shoulders
Other possible symptoms include:
- Pain in the lower back
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness and tingling
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Blurred vision
Most symptoms wear off quickly but you should see your GP if symptoms persist.
Treatment for whiplash injuries
Most cases of whiplash are not serious, although they may be very painful. If you come across a casualty who has been involved in a car accident and you suspect that they have sustained a neck or spinal injury, do not try to move them; instead, try to support their neck and head by placing your hands on either side of their face and gently tilting their jaw upwards, as this will help to keep their airways open. Call 999 and wait for emergency help.
Most cases of whiplash are mild and can be treated using a number of different treatments, including painkillers, exercises and physiotherapy, ice packs and osteopathy. Painkillers are available over the counter from supermarkets and chemists; make sure you read the labels carefully before you take the medication and stick to the recommended dosage. Physiotherapy and exercises can be used to gradually restore strength and movement around the neck by conditioning the ligaments and tendons; physiotherapy can also help to reduce pain. Ice can be used to reduce swelling and internal bleeding; it is important to cover the ice pack with a cloth or towel rather than putting ice directly onto the skin; this will prevent the skin from being damaged. Osteopathy is regarded as an effective treatment for neck and back pain and it will help to condition the muscles and connective tissues; however, it is not widely available on the NHS and so you may have to pay for private treatment.