‘Whiplash’ is one of those generic diagnoses that people often say happens after a car wreck. But what is whiplash, and is it serious?

Whiplash Injury

Whiplash happens when an impact or blow causes the head to be thrown backwards with force. The force can be so great as to tear muscles and tendons in the neck. The resulting pain in the neck is hard to overlook.

There is a certain school of thought promoted by orthopedists that whiplash is similar to a sprained ankle and no more serious. Sometimes, that may be true, but even a sprained ankle can result in lasting weakness of the joint. The cervical spine contains neurological structures of the central nervous system, so whiplash can be far more serious and long-lasting than a sprained ankle, as we shall see.

The problem arises when a person does not recognize a whiplash injury at first, and does not get checked by a professional after a forceful impact. This could happen because some whiplash injuries are not obvious. Here are some symptoms best not ignored.

Headache and Blurred Vision

The headache will be at the base of the skull but radiate to the forehead. The blurred vision can cause dizziness and poor balance.

Neurological Shock

A strong impact when the body is not prepared can cause neurological damage via the spinal cord. Shock is one of the first symptoms, followed by lingering inability to concentrate, dizziness, fatigue and sometimes difficulty remembering daily events. Some people feel tired and irritable without understanding the reason.

Jaw Pain

Unusual sensations of the facial skin, such as prickling or numbness, may occur after whiplash and not be understood as connected to the event. Pain on swallowing and pain radiating from the jaw are not uncommon.

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The upper back may feel the strain of a sudden impact forcing the head forward and back. Pain and stiffness from the back may radiate from shoulders down to arms.

Diagnosing whiplash is performed by an examination of spine, neck and arms and a description of what happened in the accident. If whiplash is diagnosed, a physician may order painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications.

It is important to remember that the sudden impact of a 4,000 pound vehicle traveling at as little as 20 miles per hour can make for long-lasting injuries to the human body. Because whiplash can cause nerve pressure, severe osteo-arthritis, anxiety and depression, it is imperative to treat for the injury immediately after an accident and to recognize possible complications at a later date.