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Whiplash injury is a type of neck injury caused by sudden movement of the head forwards, backwards or sideways.
It occurs when the soft tissues in the neck become stretched and damaged (sprained).
Whiplash will often get better within a few weeks or months, but for some people it can last longer and severely limit their activities.
Common symptoms of whiplash include:
•neck pain and tenderness
•neck stiffness and difficulty moving your head
•pain in the shoulders and arms
Less common symptoms include pins and needles in your arms and hands, dizziness, tiredness, memory loss, poor concentration and irritability. It can take several hours for the symptoms to develop after you injure your neck. The symptoms are often worse the day after the injury, and may continue to get worse for several days.
The length of time it takes to recover from whiplash can vary and is very hard to predict.
Many people will feel better within a few weeks or months, but sometimes it can last up to a year or more.
Severe or prolonged pain can make it difficult to carry out daily activities and enjoy your leisure time. It may also cause problems at work and could lead to anxiety or depression.
Try to remain positive and focus on your treatment objectives. But if you do feel depressed, speak to your GP about appropriate treatment and support.
Visit your GP if you've recently been involved in a road accident, or you've had a sudden impact to your head and you have pain and stiffness in your neck.
They'll ask how the injury happened and about your symptoms. They may also examine your neck for muscle spasms and tenderness, and may assess the range of movement in your neck.
Scans and tests such as X-rays will usually only be carried out if a broken bone or other problem is suspected.
Whiplash can occur if the head is thrown forwards, backwards or sideways violently.
Common causes of whiplash include:
•road traffic accidents and collisions
•a sudden blow to the head – for example, during sports such as boxing or rugby
•a slip or fall where the head is suddenly jolted backwards
•being struck on the head by a heavy or solid object
Whiplash will usually get better on its own or after some basic treatment.
Treatments for whiplash include:
•keeping your neck mobile and continuing with your normal activities – using a neck brace or collar isn't recommended
•painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – stronger painkillers are available on prescription if these don't help
•physiotherapy, exercises and stretches
If your pain lasts a long time, you may be referred for specialist treatment and support at an NHS pain clinic. Painkilling injections and surgery aren't normally used for whiplash.
If whiplash lasts longer than 6 months then it's usually referred to as chronic whiplash and treated with prescribed painkillers and physiotherapy. Milder cases of whiplash are treated with paracetamol or anti-inflammatory pills such as ibuprofen and symptoms usually subside within a few weeks.
Here's the good news: given time, whiplash should heal on its own. To help with recovery, you should:
•Ice your neck to reduce pain and swelling as soon as you can after the injury. Do it for 15 minutes every 3-4 hours for 2-3 days. Wrap the ice in a thin towel or cloth to prevent injury to the skin.
•Take painkillers or other drugs, if recommended by your doctor. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), will help with pain and swelling. However, these medicines can have side effects. Never use them regularly unless your doctor specifically says you should. Check with your doctor before taking them if you take other medicines or have any medical problems. If over the counter medications do not work, prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants may be necessary.
•Use a neck brace or collar to add support, if your doctor recommends it. However, they are not recommended for long-term use, because they can actually weaken the muscles in your neck.
•Apply moist heat to your neck -- but only after 2-3 days of icing it first. Use heat on your neck only after the initial swelling has gone down. You could use warm, wet towels or take a warm bath.
•Other treatments, like ultrasound and massage, may also help.
Practice proper posture by keeping your head, neck, upper body and lower back aligned during movement and at rest, which relieves stress on the neck. Avoid carrying shoulder bags and sitting for long periods. Also, try sleeping on your back with a pillow underneath your thighs to relieve pain.
Whiplash is a relatively common injury that occurs to a person's neck following a sudden acceleration-deceleration force that causes unrestrained, rapid forward and backward movement of the head and neck, most commonly from motor vehicle accidents. The term "whiplash" was first used in 1928.
How should you sleep with a bad neck?
Avoid using too high or stiff a pillow, which keeps the neck flexed overnight and can result in morning pain and stiffness. If you sleep on your side, keep your spine straight by using a pillow that is higher under your neck than your head.
Other after-effects of a whiplash injury may include headaches, dizziness, slightly red eyes, facial tingling, hearing problems and throat pain. These are not usually serious, but the patient should always be checked by their doctor.