Whiplash occurs when there is sudden and severe acceleration of the head and hyperextension of the cervical spine. This is why whiplash usually occurs after car accidents, typically with rear-end collisions. The characteristic symptoms of headaches, neck pain, dizziness, impaired vision or ringing in the ear without any detectable direct damage to the cervical spine develop within approx. 72 hours.
Whiplash is the most common complication after car accidents. Strictly speaking, whiplash is only diagnosed if no direct injuries are detectable on the cervical spine. It is assumed that the severe acceleration and deceleration of the head during the accident in combination with overdistension of the cervical spine causes the different symptoms.
The symptoms can be very different and usually occur within 72 hours of the accident. Those often complain of headaches, neck pain and dizziness in particular. However, impaired vision, hearing problems, speaking difficulties and loss of feeling in the arms or the shoulders can also occur.
Whiplash is diagnosed based on the accident and the characteristic symptoms. An x-ray or an MRI examination is usually carried out to rule out visible injuries to the cervical spine.
The treatment depends on the symptoms, which can be very different. If pain is an issue, painkillers are used temporarily. Muscle tension can be alleviated with muscle relaxants and with physiotherapeutic measures. A neck brace or a relieving posture over a longer period is not recommended as they tend to hinder the healing process rather than support it.
In the majority of cases, whiplash heals in around six months without residual symptoms. In rare cases, the symptoms can chronify or even permanently incapacitate the sufferer. No one knows why some people affected by whiplash develop chronic whiplash. As no damage can be detected on the cervical spine, the recognition of whiplash as a chronic disease has not gone uncontested.