The term ‘whiplash’ or WAD (Whiplash Associated Disorder) is used to describe the symptoms which are commonly experienced after an incident which involves the head being forced backwards and forwards, or suddenly rotated. This is most commonly as a result of a road traffic incident or a sports injury.
Symptoms are not always experienced immediately after the incident and often develop over the next 24-72 hours. The most common symptom of whiplash is neck pain and stiffness. Some people may also experience pain or stiffness in the middle or lower back and pain down one or both arms. Other common symptoms include headaches, pins and needles or numbness in the arms or hands, dizziness, feeling very tired, blurred vision, loss of concentration or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Although whiplash can be a very painful and distressing condition, in most cases, the symptoms will settle within a few weeks. It is very important to move as normally as possible after the incident. Even when the neck or back is still quite painful, it should be exercised gently to avoid stiffness. This has been shown to greatly enhance recovery and prevent persistent pain and stiffness. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication can help to alleviate some of the pain and inflammation, and can help you to keep moving more normally. You should discuss this with your GP or a pharmacist. The use of a heat pack or hot water bottle can be very helpful to ease muscle spasm.
Physiotherapy is helpful in speeding up the recovery from whiplash. It will normally involve advice, stretching and hands on treatment such as massage, mobilisations or acupuncture.