Whiplash is the name given to a type of neck and spinal injury which is been caused by a sudden movement of the head in a backwards, forwards or sideways direction. This movement causes the muscles, tendons and soft tissue in the neck to bend and stretch in an unnatural way. Because the neck is often overused, the damage can take weeks to properly heal.

Whiplash may be caused by slips, trips and falls, car accidents, and sudden blows to the head. Sports players are also liable to suffer whiplash injuries during fast-paced contact sports. There may not be any visible physical signs of the injury.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

The most common symptom of whiplash is pain in the neck and spine, however whiplash can also manifest itself in a number of different ways. The pain may be felt all of the time or it may only be noticeable when the head or neck is moved in a certain way. Many people will also experience a tightness or stiffness in the neck. It may be possible to feel hardness or knotting in the neck muscles. The area can also feel tender.

The injury can restrict movement of the neck and head. In extreme cases, patients will not be able to move their neck or head at all without causing extreme shooting pains. They may have to resort to turning their entire body to allow them to see things at either side.

It is also quite common for people to suffer from headaches that seem to radiate from the base of the skull to the forehead. In some circumstances, whiplash has been found to cause other symptoms, including pain radiating down the arms, lower back pain, jaw pain, tingling in the hands and fingers, fatigue, irritability, loss of concentration, dizziness, muscle spasms, and blurred vision. In some cases, whiplash can severely limit quality of life.

The symptoms of whiplash may not present themselves immediately after the injury occurs. Whiplash symptoms will often start to appear around 24 hours after the initial incident. They may then start to worsen before any period of recovery. Visual inspections are unlikely to reveal whether or not a person is likely to developing whiplash.

How is whiplash treated?

Depending on the severity of the injury, it may be possible to treat whiplash at home. However, severe cases of whiplash will need additional medical intervention.

If you are concerned about developing whiplash after an incident, you should try to begin treatment straight away. Apply ice to the area to attempt to reduce the potential for pain and swelling in the area. For the best results, the ice should be applied for around 15 minutes at a time, every 3 to 4 hours. To prevent any injury to the skin, a tea towel or thin cloth should always be placed between the ice and the skin. For best results, you might need to continue to use ice on the area for 4 to 5 days.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Ibuprofen can be really useful in treating low level whiplash. These drugs contain an anti-inflammatory agent which works to reduce the pain and swelling in the affected area. In order for NSAIDs to take effect, you will have to continue to take them for a few days, however you should consult your GP if you feel like you need to use them for more than one week at a time.

If you have already tried icing your neck for a few days and it hasn’t proven to be successful, you may wish to try applying a heated item to the neck area instead. Heated items such as microwave neck pillows will help to give the muscles more flexibility by warming them up. Try not to allow these items to become too hot or they could end up burning the skin. A warm bath can also have a relaxing effect in minor whiplash cases.

If you are having difficulties in moving the neck or supporting the head properly, you can consider wearing a neck brace for a short period. However, relying on a neck brace for too long can actually weaken the muscles in the neck.

Light massage from a trained physiotherapist can help to ease the tension in your neck area. Do not ask someone to massage a neck which is suffering from whiplash unless they have been specifically trained in neck physio. Unqualified masseuses can actually end up doing more harm than good when working on a neck. Your physio may also be able to recommend light exercises to help the neck to regain its normal function. It can take months for full neck function to return to a whiplash patient.

Claiming Compensation for Whiplash

If you have suffered whiplash as a result of an accident that was not your fault, it may be possible to make a claim for compensation. If you wish to make a successful claim then it is best to seek the advice of a personal injuries lawyer. They will take the time to listen to the story of how you got whiplash and they will assess whether it will be possible to launch a claim against the party that was responsible for the injury.

They may wish to see evidence such as your medical records or the accident reports. Claims can be worth thousands of pounds, depending on the severity of the injury and any lawyer you consult with will almost certainly be able to inform you how much compensation for a whiplash claim you might get. It’s worth knowing that whiplash can be hard to prove and you may need to submit to additional testing to help to prove the veracity of your claim.