In general, whiplash is referred to as an injury to the cervical spine. This injury can result from overextending the head or from sudden sharp bending. Only muscles and connective tissue are affected.
What is whiplash?
In most cases, whiplash is caused by an accident. Sports injuries or rear-end collisions are examples of a typical accident sequence in which the cervical spine is abruptly bent and overstretched. From a medical point of view, whiplash is harmless in many cases. See biotionary for What does LBD stand for.
However, whiplash trauma can cause temporary swelling or inflammation of the tissue due to the short-term heavy load, which is often very painful for those affected. In many cases, depending on the severity of the whiplash, the symptoms subside after a few days.
However, the psychological component can also influence the course. This depends on how the person concerned deals with the injury and the potentially frightening situation. Depending on the severity, the symptoms can vary. The extent to which psychological and physical factors play a role is still a matter of debate.
The most common cause of whiplash is a car accident. In a rear-end collision, the head is thrown forward or backward, violently bending and hyperextending the cervical spine.
This trauma is immediately followed by a second trauma that goes in the opposite direction.
But other causes can also come into question. There is an increased risk in sports such as diving, karate, boxing, wrestling or judo. Not to forget the so-called pleasure accidents, for example when driving bumper cars or roller coasters.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The symptoms after a whiplash injury depend on how severe the trauma was. The first symptoms are headaches and limited mobility of the cervical spine and head. This can occur immediately after the triggering event, but also after a few hours.
It is typical that the symptoms increase in intensity, which is referred to as crescendo symptoms. In individual cases it can happen that the pain and limitations only become apparent days after the accident. The unfamiliar head position causes muscle tension that can lead to a stiff neck.
Sometimes the pain radiates to the shoulders, back or jaw. The mouth area feels cramped and there may be difficulty swallowing. Additional symptoms such as nausea and dizziness can also occur. Some patients complain of ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and blurred vision.
Sweating, difficulty concentrating, depressive moods and sleep disorders also occur after whiplash. Symptoms peak after about one to three days and usually improve after that. In rare cases, complications can occur, for example if nerves or the spinal cord have been injured. Loss of consciousness, sensory disturbances, paralysis or memory loss can then occur. Severe violence can damage the brain or fracture the spine.
Diagnosis & course of disease
Depending on the extent, whiplash can cause various symptoms, such as neck or headaches or muscle tension in the neck area.
Restricted movement of the head is one of the first signs. They can occur immediately after the accident or with a delay of one or two days. The pain often increases in intensity. Often no medical reasons can be found for this. Fine injuries in the tissue with inflammation are just as conceivable as muscle tension in the area of the cervical spine.
Other symptoms can occur in the form of depressive moods, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, tremors, ringing in the ears or difficulty swallowing. However, these are rarely recorded.
When should you go to the doctor?
If whiplash was present, a doctor should be consulted in any case. It doesn’t matter how the trauma came about. It is important that internal injuries are ruled out as quickly as possible. If the person concerned complains of a severe headache and dizziness, no time should be wasted. In the case of whiplash, it is inevitable to consult a specialist. Painful and dangerous late effects can occur without medical clarification.
Even slight headaches or other symptoms should always be clarified by a brief check-up by a specialist. Many sufferers downplay whiplash and in some cases even risk their lives.
Treatment & Therapy
Basically, the diagnosis of whiplash is based on the history of the accident, the symptoms described and a physical examination. The X- ray of the cervical spine also allows the doctor to rule out bony involvement of the cervical vertebrae.
In some cases, the doctor uses computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging to diagnose severe soft tissue or bone injuries. However, this is not part of the routine for whiplash. If the symptoms occur with a delay or if you experience acute unconsciousness, nausea, vomiting and amnesia, you should see a doctor immediately. With the methods mentioned above, a skull or brain injury can be detected or ruled out.
The course of whiplash varies from person to person. A slight whiplash injury can subside in a few days even without treatment. Treatment for whiplash depends on the extent of the injury. If it is a strain without serious findings, the therapy is symptomatic, which means that the symptoms are alleviated.
If the person concerned wears a neck brace for a long time or takes it easy on himself, this can delay healing. For this reason, in the case of mild whiplash, doctors recommend that you resume everyday activities after a short rest. The healing process can be supported with physiotherapy neck exercises.
If the symptoms are more pronounced and last longer, physiotherapeutic treatment can also help in addition to physiotherapy. In addition, in the case of permanent tension, heat applications and, in some cases, acupuncture can relieve pain.
Wearing a neck brace is only an option if the whiplash has caused more serious soft tissue strains. In the case of fractures of the cervical spine, the area is immobilized for a longer period of time and may also have to be operated on.
Follow-up care for whiplash depends on the type of injury and the associated consequential damage. It is not possible to make general statements about aftercare in this case, since the effects of whiplash can vary greatly. Anything is conceivable, from spontaneous healing after the accident to chronic pain.
If the symptoms caused by the whiplash have subsided, checking the mobility of the neck and head is appropriate as aftercare. In this way, any tension or tissue damage can be detected. If the functionality is completely restored, no further measures are necessary.
This is different in long-lasting and chronic cases. Movement therapy is suitable as aftercare. Regular massages and any relaxation techniques can be used to counter persistent pain. In severe cases, administration of painkillers at regular intervals is conceivable.
It has been shown that the patient’s attitude towards whiplash contributes significantly to chronification. Where fears are fueled and the injury is overly glorified as a medical catastrophe, the healing process flags. Conversely, chronic (and therefore follow-up) cases are almost unheard of in some areas. These are the countries in which neither extensive treatment nor financial compensation in the event of whiplash is known.
You can do that yourself
After whiplash, those affected can relieve their pain and tension themselves. Cooling at the respective points is ideal for this. Damp cloths or quark wraps are equally suitable. Other patients, on the other hand, find heat to relieve pain. Thick clothing or wraps provide muscle relaxation. Everyone has to find out for themselves which temperature ultimately helps.
In addition, it is advisable to take it easy, but not overdo it. An ergonomic back posture is indicated in leisure time and at work. Chairs and tables must be adapted to the body size. Under no circumstances should one adopt a relieving posture that causes postural problems in the long term. The throat and neck area in particular are often affected. For example, a short pressure point treatment can be integrated into everyday life, in which the muscles initially feel uncomfortable and then relief occurs. For example, the tense muscles can be relaxed if the patient lies flat on the floor and places a tennis ball under the neck.
In addition, building muscle in the gym also reduces the effects of whiplash. However, a doctor should approve this self-help measure beforehand.