Whiplash is a type of injury that involves a rapid forward/backward or sideways movement of the neck, usually associated with motor vehicle collisions, but can also occur with diving or other accidents. Whiplash can affect different neck tissues or structures; therefore the severity of symptoms will vary considerably from one person to the next.
Whiplash is common in the US. Annual costs associated with whiplash are 100 billion dollars, and it has its own disease label: Whiplash Associated Disorders.
The most common symptoms of whiplash are neck pain and stiffness along with headaches. However, depending on the severity of injury, other symptoms can include jaw pain, difficulty sleeping, cognitive impairments and general anxiety. Some people actually suffer a concussion during whiplash, therefore for individuals experiencing worsening headaches, mental confusion, nausea, or dizziness, medical attention should be immediate.
Most people with whiplash injury recover fully within a few months, although for some it may take up to a year. Although estimations vary, approximately 30% will have more chronic problems. Those at greatest risk for chronic problems are people that have relatively high pain intensities and/or disability scores immediately following injury, people that develop post-traumatic stress symptoms, or those that display cognitive distortions. An example of a cognitive distortion is catastrophyzing, which is an irrational thought whereby the individual believes that something is far worse than it actually is.
Many people that suffer whiplash injury are able to improve without specific treatment. For those with more severe or persistent symptoms, physical therapy can provide much needed relief. Your physical therapist will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, can determine if imaging or other tests are needed, and will develop an appropriate treatment plan. Treatments commonly include patient education, manual therapies, exercise interventions and pain control measures as needed.