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Whiplash Injuries

What Causes Whiplash Injuries In Sports

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Updated May 06, 2011

Whiplash injuries cause pain in the neck and shoulders

Whiplash injuries cause pain in the neck and shoulders

A.D.A.M.
Whiplash injuries occur in sports where a forceful impact (commonly from behind) causes an athlete's head and neck to snap forward and back in an abrupt, violent motion. It is commonly seen in car accidents, but some contact sports, such as football, can lead to whiplash injuries.

What Causes Whiplash Injuries?

Whiplash, also called cervical hyperextension injury or flexion-extension neck injury, refers to an injury to the soft tissues of the neck including the ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness. Upper back and shoulder pain can also occur. Most whiplash injuries heal within weeks, but if left untreated they can linger and turn into chronic conditions that last for years and lead to pain and sometimes disability.

Whiplash Symptoms

The most common symptoms of whiplash occur immediately or within 24 hours of the accident:
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Headaches
  • Pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
  • Low back pain
  • Pain or numbness in the arm and/or hand
  • Dizziness
  • Ringing in the ears or blurred vision
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue

Whiplash Treatment

If you have a whiplash injury, it's important to see a doctor to evaluate the extent of your injuries. Most injuries are similar to those of Neck Strains and include soft tissues injuries to the muscles and ligaments but whiplash can damage the cervical discs as well. A physician will often request a variety of diagnostic tests to confirm the area of injury. Sometimes Cat Scans or MRI are used to determine the extent of the injury.

In the past, whiplash injuries were immobilized in a cervical collar. However, the current trend is to encourage early movement, rather than immobilization. A soft cervical collar may be used worn to help support the head and relieve pressure on the neck while ligaments heal.

First aide for whiplash includes R.I.C.E. therapy (rest, ice, compression and elevation). Ice may be applied for the first 24 hours, followed by gentle active movement.

Over the counter pain medications are also helpful to reduce inflammation and pain. They are reliable and effective when used appropriately for moderate pain relief.

Also See: How to Choose Pain Medications - Video

A visit to a physical therapist will allow you to receive a personal exercise program and treatment plan. Returning to activity is encouraged, however modifications in your previous training will likely be necessary. Low impact, exercise and a great deal of flexibility work will be needed before you can return to your previous training routine.

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