If you believe you are suffering from whiplash, and would like to quickly determine the most common symptoms, please jump to our list of 12 simple questions under the ‘Have I Got Whiplash?’ section below.
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Whiplash is a type of neck injury that occurs when the neck is forced away from the body and then pulled back towards it. This motion is usually the result of either the body or the head being subjected to a sudden force, and causes the neck to move like the lash of a whip, hence the term ‘whiplash’.
Whiplash is a common injury to sustain in:
- Car accidents
- Falls (especially from horses and bikes)
- Contact sports such as football, rugby, boxing and martial arts
- Fights and physical attacks.
Many people mistakenly assume that whiplash can only occur if the head or body is struck with a lot of force or at high speed. This is not true. Being pushed in the back could just as easily cause whiplash as being involved in a rear-end shunt in your car.
Sustaining a Whiplash Injury
To illustrate what happens when a whiplash injury occurs, we’ll use the most common cause of whiplash – a car accident. Imagine that you are driving a car in a normal seated position, when – bang! – you are struck from behind by another car.
When the car behind makes contact, force travels forward through your car. Usually, at the time of impact, the force will either drive your body forward leaving your head and neck stationary, or will drive your neck and head forward and leave your body behind. This causes your neck to extend away from your body.
As your neck extends in one direction, the tendons, ligaments and muscles inside stretch further than their normal range, and tearing occurs. Your body’s natural defence mechanism then causes your neck muscles to contract so that they pull the neck back towards the body as fast as possible. This retraction can be as sudden and violent as the initial impact, and can also cause soft tissue damage.
Depending on how severe the damage to your neck is, you may be aware of the injury immediately or you may not know you are hurt until hours later. In many cases, it is not until the next day that the painful symptoms of whiplash become apparent.
Have I Got Whiplash?
There are two types of whiplash – acute and chronic. As the name suggests, chronic whiplash is the more severe of the two, often with more unpleasant and longer lasting symptoms. But both conditions can be painful and debilitating and should be seen by a medical professional.
If you have been in an accident or suffered an injury and are concerned that you have whiplash, answer the following questions:
- Is your neck painful or tender (particularly at the back of the neck)?
- Is your neck stiff or difficult to move?
- Do you have swelling in your neck?
- Are you suddenly suffering from headaches?
- Do you have a new problem with your vision (especially blurred vision)?
- Are you finding it difficult to swallow?
- Do you have pain in the lower part of your back?
- Are you suffering from numbness in your arms or hands?
- Do you feel dizzy or as if the world is spinning around you?
- Have you got noises in your head or ears (tinnitus)
- Are you suffering from muscle spasms?
- Do you feel that you are confused, irritable, or unable to concentrate?
If you answered yes to question 1, 2, 3, or 4 only, you may have acute whiplash.
If you answered yes to questions 1, 2, 3, or 4 and any of the questions 5-12, you may have chronic whiplash.
In both instances, you should seek the advice of your GP.
Recovering from Whiplash
Whiplash injuries are ‘soft tissue’ injuries and so can take up to 6 months to heal completely. However, with acute whiplash injuries, symptoms can subside in a matter of days.
If you are still experiencing pain or discomfort after 6 months of suffering a whiplash injury, you may have damaged the nerves or disks in your neck. Again, seek a medical professional for advice.
For more information on whiplash injuries and symptoms, we recommend that you visit the NHS web site.
About the author
Claire Lamb has spent the past two decades practising personal injury law. She is widely regarded as one of the UK’s leading accident, injury, and whiplash claims specialists, having personally recouped £1,000s in client compensation.