Brief outline of whiplash (neck sprain)
Whiplash injury occurs when there is sudden flexion and/or extension of the neck, usually when the athlete is struck from behind during contact sports and the head is rapidly thrown both forward and backward. Soft tissues of the neck including intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, cervical muscles, and nerve roots may be injured, producing neck pain, stiffness, and loss of mobility.
Anatomy and physiology
The hips, back, and trunk are the first body segments and joints to experience movement during a whiplash. Forward motion in these structures is accompanied by upward notion, which acts to compress the cervical spine. This combined motion causes the head to revolve backward into extension, producing tension where the lower cervical segment extends and the upper cervical segment flexes. With this rotation of the cervical vertebrae, the anterior structures are separated and posterior components including facet joints are severely compressed.
Cause of whiplash injury
Tackle from behind, e.g. football. Sharp collision with another athlete. Sudden stop of the vehicle while driving during a road traffic accident. Blow to the head, e.g. boxing.
Signs and Symptoms of whiplash or neck sprain
Pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulder or between the shoulder-blades. Ringing in the ears or blurred vision. Irritability and fatigue.
Complications if left whiplash unattended
Left untreated, whiplash injury can produce chronic symptoms of pain, inflexibility and loss of movement, along with the continuation or worsening of associated symptoms of fatigue, sleep loss, memory and concentration loss, and depression. Symptoms may also suggest more serious injury to the spinal vertebrae with potentially serious consequences.
Treatment for whiplash injury
- Oral Medicine
Rehabilitation and prevention
The neck usually be immobilised with some form of brace, though early movement is usually encouraged to prevent stiffening. Low impact strength and flexibility training and rehabilitation should follow complete healing of the tendons, discs, and ligaments. Risk of whiplash may be minimised with protective gear as well as a thorough warm-up routine, though prevention in rough contact sports may not be guaranteed.
The long-term prognosis for most whiplash injuries is good, given adequate care, though symptoms may persist and the neck may be prone to re-injury.