Whiplash: A Common Injury in Road Accidents

Whiplash is a neck injury caused by a sudden movement of the neck which usually comes in the form of sprained ligaments. Although these ligaments are not torn, the symptoms of whiplash could potentially last for weeks or even take months to subside.

The majority of whiplash cases result from road traffic accidents where the head is thrown back and then whipped forward. For a whiplash injury to occur vehicles need only be moving at a minimal speed. The injury may also be a result of some force to the head, frequently seen during contact sports where a forceful collision results in a jolting force to the head and neck.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

Symptoms of whiplash are not usually apparent straight away and it may be several hours or even a couple of days before you start to suspect that anything is wrong. Within 48 hours of the accident, you may start to experience the symptoms of a whiplash injury.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pain and stiffness in the neck
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced or no mobility in the neck
  • Headaches

In more severe cases of whiplash, you might experience memory loss, blurred vision or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Most sufferers of whiplash will see their symptoms subside in a month. This form of whiplash is referred to as acute whiplash. Those who experience symptoms for a period of six months or more are said to be suffering from chronic whiplash. In many cases, this form may result in the development of other ailments such as anxiety and depression.

How is whiplash treated?

Whiplash is usually diagnosed by the description of common symptoms. A doctor may test the mobility of the neck and check for signs of swelling or spasms. It is unlikely that an X-Ray or a CT scan will be necessary unless it is believed that other injuries might have occurred. Painkillers may also be prescribed.

The medical treatment received will be minimal, as the body is fast acting in the healing process. A doctor may test the mobility of the neck and check for signs of swelling or spasms. This is likely to be painful but has been proved to speed both recovery and mobility significantly.

Physiotherapy has proven incredibly valuable in the healing process. We may use massage and manipulation to aid your body and will design a custom set of exercises for you to do at your appointments and at home.

In cases of chronic whiplash, where symptoms last for six months or longer, the dosage of painkillers may be increased accordingly. Mobility will still be the focus of treatment in these cases. A doctor may recommend a course of therapy or anti-depressants should signs of anxiety or depression appear.

The most important element of treatment is constant participation and motivation from the patient. Focus on posture, a support pillow and yoga will aid your body in healing itself. You must remember that, although it is painful, mobility exercises in early days of treatment will make the process shorter and help achieve maximum results.

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The Author

Lewis Payne

Lewis graduated from The University of Nottingham in 2013 with a First Class Honours in Physiotherapy, worked as Sheffield F.C.’s first team Physiotherapist, and now runs a leading-edge private clinic in Sheffield. With over ten years of experience, he specialises in manual therapy, advanced technological treatments, and exercise-based approaches, focusing on spinal and joint conditions, sports injuries, and specifically complex spinal issues like disc pathology and scoliosis. Lewis leads in IDD Therapy, performing over 6000 treatments, offers MRI referrals and reviews, and employs a holistic treatment philosophy viewing the body as a Tensegrity structure. He excels in postural analysis, soft tissue release techniques, and prescribes biomechanical corrective exercises to enhance natural movement.