Whiplash has been the butt of many jokes and parodies over the years. However, the fact is that it can be a serious injury requiring medical attention and extensive physical therapy. Whiplash occurs when the head is snapped suddenly and violently forward then backward, as would happen if you collided with a car that suddenly pulled out in front of you. Severe whiplash can result in injury to the intervertebral joints, discs, ligaments, and nerve cases. In especially severe cases of whiplash, surgery may be necessary to repair damage to the soft tissue. Between 15 and 40 percent of people who suffer whiplash will continue to have pain months after the injury was sustained. There is an 18 percent chance that a whiplash victim will still be experiencing some symptoms more than two years after the accident.
Whiplash injuries may not show up right away; a person may awaken several days or a week or two later with classic signs of whiplash, such as neck pain, shoulder stiffness, and headache. Usually, the sooner the symptoms of whiplash appear, the more serious the injuries tend to be. Depending on the severity of the whiplash, the doctor may order the patient to wear a cervical (neck) collar, take anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (e.g., Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). For people who are suffering greater than normal pain, the doctor may prescribe strong prescription pain relievers, such as Vicodin and Norco, as well as muscle relaxants. The doctor may also prescribe physical therapy for the victim for a period of several months or more, depending upon how the victim is recovering. While the majority of whiplash victims recover in six to twelve weeks, for some people, regardless of the brace, medications, and physical therapy, whiplash results in longterm symptoms which can be extremely painful and disabling.
In addition to “simple” whiplash, there is the more serious Whiplash-Associated Disorder (WAD). In the more severe and chronic cases of WAD, the person may experience depression, anger, frustration, anxiety, stress, drug dependency, alcoholism, substance abuse, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), insomnia, and social isolation. In some cases, the snapping motion of the neck is so strong that it may cause the dislocation or even a fracture to a cervical vertebra, causing paralysis. (See Chapter 29 for a discussion of Spinal Cord Injuries.)