Whiplash is an injury to the neck muscles, ligaments and tendons resulting from an acceleration-deceleration force. Bones, discs and joints of the cervical spine can also be injured. Whiplash most frequently occurs as the result of a rear-end or side-impact motor vehicle collision in which the head and neck of the front vehicle occupant are forced into hyperextension. However whiplash can also be seen in falls or violent collisions in contact sports.
Neck pain and stiffness usually begins within 24-48 hours after the collision. Headaches, dizziness, numbness and tingling, decreased concentration and blurred vision may also be seen following a whiplash. Initial treatment can include anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxers, ice, and gentle stretching. Once it is known there is no fracture, neck braces should be avoided because they tend to worsen the stiffness and contribute to loss of range of motion.
Women tend to be affected by motor vehicle accident-related whiplash more frequently than men most likely because of having a thinner neck. Older individuals and those with prior history of neck pain also tend to have more symptoms and take longer to recover.
After initial treatment for pain and inflammation, I typically recommend physical therapy for improving range of motion, increasing strength and establishing a home exercise program. For some patients, I may perform injections, such as trigger point injections, into the injured muscles to relieve pain and speed healing. Most individuals are fully recovered within 6-12 months after the accident with appropriate treatment. It is important to seek medical attention immediately after the accident though, because delaying the start of treatment can prolong recovery and may keep a patient from achieving maximum results.