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Learn more about coping with whiplash after a crash

When you think about whiplash, you might think of an injury that takes only a few weeks to heal. You might think of a sore neck or a slight headache.

While that mild case of whiplash may be the reality for some victims of car crashes, others suffer a more significant injury. While most people with whiplash feel better within a few weeks, it's possible that the injury could be persistent, lead to chronic pain or cause long-lasting complications.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

Whiplash is not usually apparent at the time of an accident, because it takes time to set in. Due to the adrenaline and other chemicals coursing through your body after a traumatic incident, the symptoms of whiplash can take 24 to 48 hours, and sometimes longer, to appear. Some of the symptoms that you may experience include:

  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the shoulder, arms or upper back
  • Fatigue
  • A loss of the range of motion in the neck
  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness in the neck
  • Pain with neck movement

More severe symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Memory difficulties
  • Irritability
  • Blurred vision
  • Tinnitus
  • Trouble concentrating

If you have recently been involved in a car crash and are developing these symptoms, it's important to see a medical professional for an exam as soon as possible.

What are some possible complications of whiplash?

Some possible complications that can be caused by a whiplash injury include:

  • Severe neck pain
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Pain in the arms, which radiates from the neck
  • Headaches, sometimes severe

If you're having these symptoms, then your medical provider may wish to perform an X-ray, to order a computerized tomography (CT) scan or to order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Each of these can give your medical provider more information about your injury and rule out more significant injuries, such as broken bones, torn ligaments or dislocations.

How is whiplash treated?

Whiplash treatment has the goal of reducing and eliminating pain, restoring your full range of motion in the neck and helping you get back to the activities you could do before your injury. It's possible that you may need pain relievers and muscle relaxants at first, especially if your medical provider orders physical therapy as a form of treatment.

Overall, resting, relaxing the muscles and exercising gently can usually help resolve the pain and discomfort of a simple whiplash case, though acute cases may need further intervention.

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