The effects of whiplash include soreness and tenderness in the neck, head, and back, along with neurological problems like ringing ears and visual disturbances. Some patients also have psychological whiplash symptoms, such as irritability, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. When a patient incurs an injury involving the spine and head, a thorough medical evaluation is necessary to determine the nature and extent of the injury, and to develop an appropriate treatment plan, keeping in mind that people can experience long-term health problems.
In whiplash injuries, the head is subjected to a sudden acceleration, followed by a rapid deceleration. The most common cause is a car accident, where patients may slam forward or backward and then bounce in the other direction as they hit the steering column or headrest. Certain kinds of sports injuries can follow a similar pattern. Safety measures like wearing seatbelts and driving in cars with airbags can help prevent whiplash.
Immediately after the accident, people may notice pain and tenderness in the spine, lower skull, and upper back. These symptoms can grow worse over time. The neck may become stiff, limiting the range of motion, and can swell, sometimes causing extreme discomfort. The effects of whiplash often include back pain spreading into the lower back, headache associated with mild brain injury, and feelings of fatigue or unusually heavy limbs. Patients who start sleeping much more than usual or appearing disoriented and confused may have brain injuries, and should see a neurologist.
Some patients experience whiplash-related blurred vision, double vision, dizziness, and ringing ears. They may onset within minutes or hours of the accident. If patients experience psychological problems like depression, irritability, and other behavioral changes, these may take days or weeks after the injury to onset. Patients can also feel isolated and alone because they may need to rest after the accident, making it harder to get around and interact with people.
Treatment for the effects of whiplash can include wearing a brace to stabilize the spine, taking medications to address inflammation and pain, and undergoing gentle physical therapy to develop strength and flexibility in the neck. Sometimes, surgery is necessary to treat hairline fractures, ruptured discs, and other problems in the head and neck. It is important to receive a detailed medical examination to check for potential complications, and to attend follow-up appointments to monitor the progress of healing and see if additional treatment is necessary. For psychological effects of whiplash, medications and therapy may both be beneficial.