Backpain Relief

Whiplash injuries

Neck X ray

Whiplash injuries.

Whiplash is probably the most common injury in car crashes and is the result of sudden acceleration and deceleration - a whip-like movement - typically when the vechicle is hit from behind - often no more than a common 'fender bender' type incident. Whiplash is a rare exception to the general rule about back pain affecting mostly older people - whiplash is common across all age groups.

It occurs when the soft spinal tissue in the neck area is stretched and strained when the head is violently thrown about. While it mostly occurs with the head and neck being snapped forward and then backwards, it can follow a side swipe accident. It can also occur in cycle crashes, diving and other sporting activities.

What are the symptoms?

It may take several hours or even longer for any symptoms to appear. There may be a general stiffness of the neck and head, sometimes accompanied by headaches. There may be moderate or severe pain in the neck. It will usually pass after a week or so but may last much longer. About 60% of whiplash injuries clear completely but some people may suffer reoccurences over many years.

Is whiplash dangerous?


Get immediate medical advice if you experience severe pains in the back of the head, pins and needles in the shoulders and arms or notice a sensation of heaviness in the arms. Likewise, any memory loss or period of unconsciousness should set alarm bells ringing. Don't just worry about it - get expert advice............

What can you do about whiplash injury?

Early treatment is best. In the first 24 hours apply a cold wheat bag or an ice bag directly to the neck, for periods of 20 minutes or so. This will help to relieve the inflammation. In an emergency, use a bag of frozen peas which will mould easilly around the neck.

The bag can be wrapped in a towel or cloth to avoid direct contact between the skin and the ice ( not necessary with a wheat bag which is already wrapped). Try laying in bed with your neck resting on the cold bag for 20 minutes at a time, with your head supported by a pillow.

If a cold pack doesn't work, try a heated wheat bag.



Painkillers are usually helpful. Take them regularly until the pain eases rather than just when your pain is bad. Taking them regularly may prevent the pain from getting too severe, and should allow you to exercise and keep your neck active.

Full strength Paracetamol (eg Panadol) may be sufficient. Adult dosage is two 500 mg tablets, four times a day.

NSAID's - non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Some people find that these work better than paracetamol. They include Ibuprofen which you can buy at a chemists. It is always a good idea to tell your pharmacist what the problem is - he or she may be able to suggest other options.

Stronger painkillers such as codeine may be an option if anti-inflammatories fail to work. Codeine is often taken in addition to paracetamol.

Your GP may perscribe muscle relaxants like diazepam if the pain is severe or persists more than a few days.


Exercise your neck and keep active!

Unfortunately, there is no single treatment for whiplash which is widely accepted among doctors. Earlier practice was to support the neck in a surgical collar and rest the neck whenever possible. Current thinking, where there is no suspicion of a fracture or dislocation, tends towards early exercise and a resumption of normal activities. This is thought to lead to a quicker recovery.

For most people the injury will simply pass after a short period, but you can always seek further advice on exercise and recovery from a physiotherapist or chiropractor.

Whiplash syndrome

A few people may develop what is known as whiplash syndrome. They suffer continual headaches and pain, reduced movement at the back of the neck, tingling in the arms, lumbar pains, fatigue, sleep disruptions and reduced libido.

Whiplash syndrome is difficult to treat. The essence of the treatment is to prevent any further strain and encourage a quick return to normal everyday activities.

Unfortunately, in a very small number of people who have experienced a severe whiplash injury, symptoms can persist for months or even years before settling and even then there can be residual long-term neck discomfort.

My own experience of Whiplash

The pain started about 18 hours after a minor motoring 'incident'. It was so severe that I went directly to a well respected local Physiotherapist and he started me immediately on a twice daily treatment of exposure to heat lamps followed by traction. He also prepared a surgical collar which I wore day and night. Relief from the pain was immediate following each treatment, but actual recovery was spread over several months.

It seems I was one of the unfortunates who go on to develop whiplash syndrome. Mostly now I am without discomfort but even 30 years after the event I still have to move carefully, can easilly 'put my neck out' - I don't know how better to describe it - and I do need to take pain killers and anti-inflamatories at times.

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