Whiplash is a common condition that affects children, teens, and adults. When people think of whiplash, they may picture someone hunched over in agony as they battle severe neck pain. While it's true whiplash can cause debilitating discomfort in the neck, this medical problem is also associated with numerous other symptoms. Learn the basics about this condition, including when to seek whiplash treatment, in the handy guide below.
What Is Whiplash?
When your head is violently jerked back and forth, you may develop a neck injury known as whiplash. The injury, which is basically a strain or sprain, damages the soft tissue in your neck. This damaged soft tissue often swells, resulting in painful inflammation throughout your upper body. Patients with whiplash may also experience discomfort in the shoulders, arms, or back.
What Types of Accidents Can Cause Whiplash?
Whiplash often occurs after someone is hit from behind by another driver, also known as being rear-ended. When someone gets rear-ended, they are typically thrown forward by the impact, then quickly thrown in the opposite direction. This back-and-forth action can injure the delicate tissue found in the neck, resulting in whiplash.
Car accidents aren't the sole cause of whiplash, though. You can also develop whiplash from any of the following triggers:
- Assault or physical abuse
- Sports-related accidents
Whiplash is also commonly found in patients who have concussions or other brain injuries. If the brain is thrown against the skull, it's likely that the neck may have endured some damage as well.
What Are Some Surprising Symptoms Associated With Whiplash?
Whiplash can cause pain and discomfort in the upper body, but symptoms don't always end there. For some patients, a neck injury such as whiplash can cause neurological or psychological symptoms, including:
- Tingling or paraesthesia in the face, head, or ears
- Neuropathy, a type of nerve dysfunction that can occur after injuries to the spine or brain
- Neuralgia, a painful condition that can stem from compressed nerves in the spine
- Dizziness due to swelling in the upper cervical spine and/or against the brain stem
- Lightheadedness or feeling as if you may faint
- Feeling unable to think clearly, often dubbed "brain fog" by patients
- Memory loss
- Sleep disturbances
- Anger or irritability
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
As you can see, whiplash has the potential to affect far more than just the neck or upper body. That's because whiplash can damage your cervical region, which houses the nerves from the peripheral nervous system. The peripheral nervous system sends and receives information from the central nervous system, which is located in your brain and spinal cord. If the exchange of information is disrupted due to illness or an injury such as whiplash, your body may not function as well as it normally does. That's why it's essential to find a doctor who understands whiplash treatment should focus on the body as a whole rather than just the discomfort in your neck.
How Long Does Whiplash Treatment Take?
Some patients feel better in just a few days, while others require weeks or months of whiplash treatment. The majority of patients return to their regular routines within 3 months, though some have symptoms that last for years or even become permanent. You can help reduce the risk of developing long-lasting whiplash symptoms by seeking treatment immediately after an accident or injury that impacts your neck.
Some patients ignore whiplash symptoms because they think they'll go away. Other patients don't realize their symptoms stem from whiplash, especially if the symptoms are neurological or affect their mental health. That's why it's important to seek medical care any time you injure your neck, as you may need immediate care to prevent symptoms from worsening. If you've recently suffered a neck injury, reach out to a specialist who offers whiplash treatment so you can get the care you need.