Symptoms and Signs of Whiplash

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/16/2021

Doctor's Notes on Whiplash

Whiplash is a term used to describe neck pain due to an injury to the ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles of the neck. Other medical terms for whiplash are cervical strain or sprain, flexion-extension neck injury, and cervical hyperextension injury. Signs and symptoms include

  • tenderness along the back and shoulders,
  • neck swelling,
  • neck muscle spasms,
  • difficulty and/or pain when flexing,
  • extending or rotating the head,
  • headache,
  • fatigue,
  • sleep disturbances,
  • jaw tightness,
  • difficulty chewing,
  • vision disturbances, and
  • tinnitus.

The most frequent cause of whiplash is a car accident, even if you are wearing a seatbelt. Other causes are contact sports, assaults, or a blow to the head from a falling object, for example. Sudden strains from changes in direction (like roller coasters, bicycle accidents) or repetitive stress like holding a phone against your head can cause whiplash. Child abuse (shaking a child) may cause whiplash in children.

What Is the Treatment for Whiplash?

Depending on the severity of the whiplash injury, you may do some of the following:

  • Control pain
    • Rest
    • Cold or heat compresses
    • Over-the-counter pain medication
    • Prescription medications (in more severe cases)
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Injection of numbing drug like lidocaine
  • Exercise: stretching and movement of neck and shoulders
  • Physical therapy: muscle strengthen, restore normal movement
  • Foam collar: controversy; may help reduce pain early after injury
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): may help reduce pain and increase muscle strength

Some patients may benefit from acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments. Your doctor can help design the best treatment protocol for your injury.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.