Whiplash 

 

Whiplash occurs most commonly following a road traffic accident and is characterised by several symptoms in the neck, head, around the shoulders or the arms.  

Mechanism of injury

Whiplash injuries occur as rapid movement of the head backward, forwards or sideways. 

 

This movement is often excessive and leads to overstretching of muscle tissue, ligaments and tendons which can get torn or damaged.

 

It may take several hours for the symptoms to come and often the next day is worse. 

 

Most cases of whiplash do not result in fractures or serious injuries. Commonly, it is the muscles and ligaments that have been affected. 

 

 

Symptoms

Whiplash injuries can involve lots of symptoms:

 

  • Neck pain

  • Headaches

  • Shoulder pain

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Inability to move neck

  • Blurred vision

  • Nausea

  • Stiffness and tenderness around the neck

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

Whiplash usually gets better on its own. Initially some rest and medications may be needed however if there is no underlying fracture or other problem, it is important to start moving in order to prevent it becoming stiff and to quicken recovery.

 

There are various treatments available for whiplash injuries. These include: 

 

  • Rest and medication for first few days

  • Physiotherapy

  • Massage

  • Osteopathy/chiropractic

  • Exercise, stretching

  • Heat and ice

  • Stress reduction

Treatment

Causes

The most frequent cause of whiplash is road traffic accidents. Other causes include:

 

  • A slip or a fall when the head moves excessively

  • Sudden blow to the head from sports like rugby

  • An object being hit on the head

 

 

Scans and x-rays are rarely needed and would be useful if a fracture or other more serious cause is suspected.

 

 

Quick tips

 

 

  • Keep moving and stay active even if it hurts 

  • Hurt does not mean harm

  • Consult your GP about medication

  • Stay at work

  • Find what treatment works for you

  • Do not rely on doctors to "fix" you

  • Be reassured that it will get better

  • Avoid wearing a neck collar

Resources and further reading