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What is Whiplash?


Whiplash is a type of neck injury that occurs when a person’s head thrusts backward and/or forward forcefully. It is most commonly the result of an accident or trauma, such as a rear-end car accident, contact sports injury or physical abuse.

With whiplash, the muscles, ligaments and nerves and other spinal structures in the neck are forced to extend beyond their typical range of motion, resulting in pain that can range from mild to severe. In some cases, symptoms of whiplash may not be apparent right away and instead develop a few days after the injury. In some cases, whiplash causes chronic pain and other long-lasting symptoms.

If you’re experiencing pain, numbness and other symptoms of whiplash that are interfering with your ability to do the things you love, speak to us at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”]. The board-certified specialists of Back Pain Centers America can help you just as they’ve helped over 30,000 others to live pain-free again.

Suffering from Whiplash symptoms

Whiplash Causes and Risk Factors

Any movement that throws the head backward and forward forcefully can injure the spine and surrounding tissues, including the vertebrae, discs, and nerves, as well as the muscles and ligaments. This type of injury can result from:

  • Car accidents – Rear-end car accidents are one of the most common causes of whiplash.
  • Physical abuse – Being violently shaken or punched can cause whiplash.
  • Contact sports – Collisions in contact sports, such as football tackles, can cause spinal injuries, including whiplash.
  • Falls – Any fall that causes the head to jerk backward can cause whiplash.

Your risk of whiplash increases when you regularly participate in activities where this type of injury is more likely, such as contact sports, car racing, and horseback riding.

Whiplash Symptoms

Whiplash is often brushed off as a minor injury, but the reality is that the symptoms of whiplash can be severe and long lasting.

Common whiplash symptoms include:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Difficulty moving neck
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the shoulders, upper back or arms
  • Numbness and tingling in the arms
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Other possible symptoms of whiplash include:

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Blurry vision
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Memory problems

In most cases, symptoms of whiplash develop within 24 hours of the injury.

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Whiplash Treatment Options

Treatment of whiplash includes a combination of therapies, including (ask your doctor which is best for you):

  • Rest – Rest can be helpful during the first day following your injury, but resting beyond that can worsen symptoms, such as stiffness.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications – OTC pain medications, such as acetaminophen and anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, can control mild to moderate whiplash symptoms such as pain and inflammation.
  • Prescription pain medication – If OTC medication doesn’t provide sufficient pain relief, you may be prescribed stronger pain medication to use for a short time. Long-term use of prescription painkillers is not recommended because of side effects and their habit-forming nature. Note that Back Pain Centers of America is not involved in prescribing narcotics for pain.
  • Muscle relaxants – These can help with pain and stiffness, as well as help you sleep through the night if your pain is interfering with sleep.
  • Heat and cold packs – Applying heat and cold to the neck may relieve pain and inflammation, and help with stiffness.
  • Injections – A numbing agent injected into the neck can help relieve moderate to severe pain temporarily.
  • Physical therapy and exercise – Gentle stretching exercises can help improve your range of motion. Working with a physical therapist, you will also learn ways to improve your posture and regain full movement of your neck.
  • Cervical collars – Though not recommended for long periods because they may slow your recovery, cervical collars worn for a few hours at a time can help you manage your pain and support your neck while sleeping.

Most cases of whiplash improve with nonsurgical whiplash treatment. Surgery, however, is appropriate in severe cases of whiplash or when conservative treatment has failed to improve symptoms after several weeks.

The type of surgery will depend on which part of the cervical spine is injured. Most damage can be repaired using minimally invasive procedures to treat injuries such as whiplash. These procedures are performed through tiny incisions, often less than 1 inch, and offer quick recovery with minimal scarring.

If your whiplash symptoms aren’t improving or are severe enough to impact your day-to-day activities, call [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”] to be matched with a licensed specialist who can help. Back Pain Centers of America has helped more than 30,000 patients get back to the activities they love with our minimally invasive procedures. You don’t have to live with pain. We’re here to help you.

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© 2019 Back Pain Centers of America. Back Pain Centers of America does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Information on this website is not designed to replace a doctor's judgment or course of treatment. All physicians and practices operate independent of and are in no way owned or controlled by Back Pain Centers of America. Results and recovery times may vary. User Agreement and Privacy Policy.

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