Although the human neck is flexible – allowing us to look down to the ground, up to the sky, and from side to side with ease – it shouldn’t suddenly snap from one direction to another. Nevertheless, this dangerous backward-forward motion sometimes occurs during car crashes and other unfortunate accidents, causing a painful condition known as whiplash. So, what is whiplash?
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury characterized by pain and stiffness in the neck. It occurs when the head is forced backward or forward and then rapidly snaps in the other direction, pushing the neck beyond its normal range of motion. Imagine a whip – moving forward and then snapping back again. To better understand what this motion looks like, watch this video from Veritas Health.
Whiplash may sprain the muscles and ligaments of the neck and injure intervertebral joints and discs. In some cases, this leads to nerve damage or (in rare cases) broken bones.
What Causes Whiplash?
Although whiplash can be caused in a variety of ways, it happens most often in rear-end car collisions. When a vehicle is hit from behind, the passengers’ necks are sometimes thrown backward and forward in quick succession. Perhaps surprisingly, the vehicles involved don’t need to be driving fast in order to cause substantial damage. In fact, a car accident with vehicles driving less than 15 miles per hour can cause painful whiplash.
Sports injuries may cause whiplash, especially contact sports (like football, indoor soccer, boxing, and wrestling) and some high-impact sports (like snowboarding, skiing, diving, and gymnastics). In addition, whiplash is sometimes caused by a person falling or being roughly shaken or punched.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
First, it’s important to note that the symptoms of whiplash and other neck strain injuries are often delayed. You may not notice anything amiss until hours or even days after the incident. Regardless of when the pain starts, don’t ignore it. Even serious whiplash injuries can have late-onset symptoms.
Your symptoms may include any or all of the following:
- Neck pain or stiffness (sometimes turning the head aggravates the pain)
- Pain, tingling, or numbness in the arm or hand
- Pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
- Low back pain
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Jaw stiffness, soreness, or pain
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory problems
- Issues with sleeping
What Should I Do If I Suspect I Have Whiplash?
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of whiplash, contact a medical professional right away or visit the emergency room if the pain is severe. A prompt, accurate diagnosis is critical. To diagnose the neck injury, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and may need to perform an imaging test (such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan) to check for fractures or dislocations. Once whiplash has been diagnosed, your doctor will recommend a treatment plan. If your symptoms do not improve within the suggested timeframe, or if they worsen, contact your doctor.
So, what is whiplash? It is a neck injury caused by the head quickly snapping backward and forward, and it may have painful, long-lasting consequences.
If you were recently in an accident and have symptoms of whiplash, contact National Dizzy and Balance Center. We specialize in diagnosing and treating health conditions like vertigo, dizziness, balance disorders, concussions, and whiplash. Our talented team members can evaluate your health and design a personalized plan to relieve your symptoms. To learn more, please contact us online or by phone. Or if you’re ready to get started, schedule your free medical consultation today.