Whiplash is a specific type of neck strain. Rapid back-and-forth motion of your head can stress the ligaments of the neck and cause pain. Whiplash is a common occurrence after car accidents, especially rear-end collisions.
Whiplash injuries can range in severity. The seriousness of your injury can affect your recovery time. If your whiplash does not receive the proper treatment, it can also lead to chronic complications.
Whiplash symptoms usually do not show up immediately. They typically develop within 24 hours of the injury, although sometimes it can take longer. The most common complaints include pain and stiffness in your neck, especially with motion.
You may also experience pain that spreads to the shoulders or arms and/or headaches that radiate from the base of the skull. A doctor should evaluate symptoms such as these, as well as any neck pain that is severe, as they may contribute to chronic complications of long-term pain.
Complication risk factors
You may be at greater risk for chronic pain from whiplash if you have an existing history of pain in your neck or lower back. Older people tend to be at greater risk, and if you have had whiplash in the past, it may be more difficult for you to recover from it again.
If you have whiplash, take it easy for a while and follow your doctor’s instructions for returning to activities. Pushing yourself too hard before you are ready could cause permanent injury resulting in chronic neck pain.
In the past, doctors usually immobilized the patient’s neck to treat whiplash. However, this could weaken the neck muscles. You should not immobilize your neck for whiplash unless a physician recommends it. Instead, ice your neck every three to four hours for two to three days before applying moist heat.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories may be helpful. Eventually, your doctor may recommend gentle exercises for rehabilitation. However, do not start exercising without first talking to your physician.
Most cases of whiplash resolve on their own within a few days or weeks. However, because the symptoms are similar to more serious injuries, it is a good idea to receive a medical evaluation if you have neck pain after a car accident.