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What is it?
Whiplash is a term used to describe injury to the neck following forceful and rapid movement of the head backwards and forwards, like the cracking of a whip. Excessive movement of the head may damage many structures of the neck including the muscles, joints or nerves and can result in neck pain, headache or pain in the arms.
Whiplash symptoms will vary depending upon the severity of injury. Mild cases of whiplash will result in isolated neck pain, headache or stiffness. More severe cases may cause reduced and painful neck movement, dizziness, or numbness, weakness or tingling in the arms. After an accident it may take six to twelve hours for whiplash symptoms to appear. Generally the quicker symptoms appear the more severe the injury.
A physical examination to assess the muscles, joints and nerves of the head and neck should be performed. This may include range of motion of the neck and shoulders, palpation of the soft tissues and neurological testing (reflexes, strength and sensation). In some cases further imaging may be required. X-ray can be used to identify fractures or dislocations. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect soft tissue injury such as damage to the discs or spinal cord.
Whiplash most commonly results from car accidents but can also occur after other traumatic events such as contact sports, violent assaults or falls.
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury but generally manual treatment to the joints and soft tissues of the neck and shoulders is recommended. Once pain has subsided, stabilisation exercises should be performed to restore proper stability to the neck and shoulder region (if required). This will aid full recovery and also help prevent future injury.
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