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Whiplash

Outline of person sitting in driver's seat of car showing spine. Three positions of outline show forward and backward movement of whiplash. Closeup showing vertebrae (bones that protect spinal cord) being forced out of position. Disks (spine's shock absorbers) can bulge, rupture, or wear down. Nerves can get pinched or irritated. Muscles and ligaments can be stretched or torn.

When one car hits another, each person’s body is thrown toward the impact, then away from it. This is whiplash. Even at slow speeds, the wrenching force puts stress and strain on the spine, especially the neck. The weight of the head stretches and damages muscles and ligaments, and may pull spinal bones out of line.

Symptoms of Whiplash

A wide array of symptoms can follow an auto accident. Symptoms may appear right away, or may not show up for weeks or even months. An injury may be present even if you don’t have symptoms. This is called “hidden” whiplash. If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Pain, especially in your neck, shoulder, arm, or lower back

  • Arm or leg numbness

  • Stiffness

  • Headache

  • Dizziness

Treating Whiplash

You may be asked to do one or more of the following:

  • Ice the injured area for 24 to 48 hours. Do this for 20 minutes. Repeat 5 times a day.

  • After 48 hours, apply moist heat on the injured area for 20 minutes. Repeat 5 times a day.

  • Wear a cervical collar for as long as recommended.

 

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