Whiplash is a neck injury that can occur during rear-end automobile collisions, when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward — similar to the motion of someone cracking a whip. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion.

Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, prescription medications and physical therapy may be helpful.

Most people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, but some people may develop chronic pain after a whiplash injury.

Causes

Whiplash typically occurs when a person’s head is thrown backward and then forward, straining the neck’s muscles and ligaments. This type of injury may result from:

Auto accidents. Rear-end collisions are the most common cause of whiplash.

Physical abuse. Whiplash may also result from incidents of being punched or shaken. Whiplash is one of the injuries sustained in shaken baby syndrome.

Contact sports. Football tackles and other sports-related collisions can sometimes cause whiplash injuries.

Symptoms

Symptoms from whiplash include neck pain.  Neck pain can be sharp, stabbing, shooting, throbbing, diffuse across the entire neck, centralized to a specific region, bilateral or unilateral.  Beyond pain other symptoms may include stiffness, limited motion looking up and down or turning to the side.

Procedure

Procedural treatment for whiplash depends on the underlying cause.  One theory behind whiplash injury involves microtrauma to the cervical ligaments, essentially a neck sprain.  Most neck sprains get better with time and improved posture. If imaging reveals a disc, joint, or nerve injury in the neck along with accompanying whiplash, injection therapy can be used to treat those conditions.

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