What are the symptoms of severe whiplash?

Common whiplash symptoms can occur immediately after an accident or develop gradually over a series of days. People who have suffered from whiplash often feel nothing the first day, then wake up the next morning with stiffness and pain in the neck area. Symptoms that occur quickly after the accident often indicate severe whiplash. Common side effects of whiplash are headaches, neck pain caused by muscle spasms or irritated nerves, back or shoulder pain, headaches, and arm numbness. Other symptoms may include memory problems, dizziness, hearing and vision problems, depression, and trouble sleeping.

Severe whiplash is usually not fatal, and symptoms and recovery time vary greatly from patient to patient. Whiplash can occur when the head and neck suddenly jerk back and forth without time for the muscles to react. Severe whiplash commonly occurs in rear-end vehicle collisions, which are the most common type of car accident. Falls, diving, or a blow to the head can also cause severe whiplash.

Hyperextension, or extension beyond the normal range of motion, in the neck can cause neck ligaments or muscles to overstretch or tear. Severe whiplash can also include strained or damaged discs, spinal joints, and nerve roots. Soft tissue damage and inflammation can lead to compression of the nerve roots and cause shooting pains. Severe cases of whiplash can also include dislocations or fractures.

Most cases of whiplash heal in two to 12 weeks. Serious whiplash injuries may take several more months to fully recover, although some patients may develop long-term problems. In some cases, chronic problems can last for years.

Treating whiplash can be as easy as applying ice packs to the injury. If whiplash is severe, physical therapy or spinal manipulation may be helpful. Anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, and/or pain medications are often given to relieve pain and inflammation. Mild braces can help relax muscles to relieve pain, but prolonged use of a brace can delay recovery. For severe whiplash sufferers, if a fracture or dislocation has occurred, a molded collar may be needed to stabilize the neck.

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