For some people, whiplash symptoms can be so minor that they go away within a couple of days. For others, the symptoms can become varied and chronic, ranging from severe pain to cognitive and emotional difficulties.
Whiplash symptoms might manifest immediately following the injury or they can take a few hours or days to appear. Standard medical evaluations in many cases are unable to identify the cause and therefore are unable to adequately treat the condition. Due to the potentially high number and complexity of whiplash symptoms, they’re sometimes collectible referred to as Whiplash- Associated Disorders.
Common Whiplash Symptoms
Some of the most common whiplash symptoms include:
- Neck Pain. The pain can range anywhere from mild to severe. It might be located at one spot or over a general area, the pain may also radiate down the shoulder into the arm and/hand and fingers. Typically, neck pain from whiplash is caused by ligament strains or muscle spasms, but can be caused by injuries to the disc, nerves, joints and/or bones.
- Neck Stiffness or Reduced Range of Motion. Reduced neck mobility could be from pain, tightness of the muscle or mechanical problems such as a joint injury, disc injury or ligamentous instability. (Severe damage to the ligaments that hold the neck bones together)
- Neck muscles tightening or a nerve or joint of the neck becoming irritated can cause headaches by irritating the nerves from the neck that lead into the head. Injury to the brain, itself due to the forces of the impact can lead to headaches that can last for weeks, months or may never go away.
- Neck Instability. This whiplash symptoms commonly results from stretched or torn soft tissues, such as muscles and ligaments. If a ligament in the neck that hold the bones together is damaged bad enough, it can lead to a condition called Alteration of Motion Segment Integrity (AOMSI) which can lead to permanent injury. (See auto accident section for more information)
- Shoulder and/or Upper Back Pain. If the soft tissues in the neck such as muscles or ligaments, or torn or strain during the whiplash injury, and sometimes that pain can also be referred to other areas in the upper back and shoulders
- Radiating Tingling, Weakness or Numbness. Sometimes whiplash can cause one of the spinal nerves to become compressed or inflamed, which can then lead to cervical radiculopathy with symptoms of tingling, weakness, and/or numbness radiating down the shoulder, arm, hand and/or fingers. Typically, this only on one side of the body, but in rare cases it can be felt on both sides if there is more than one nerve root affected. These are typical symptoms when the cervical disc (cartilage pads between the neck bones) are ruptured, herniated or bulging due to the injury.
- Lower Back Pain and Stiffness. Most attention has been directed at the injuries to the neck and head following motor vehicle collisions. However, it is quite common to develop lower back pain and stiffness following these injuries. The lower back is subjected to significant forces when the occupants of a vehicle that is struck from the rear, front or side. These forces can tear ligaments, injure muscles and can cause damage to the disc structures in the lower back.
Anywhere from just one whiplash symptom all the way up to numerous symptoms can present at once. Symptoms can also come and go at various times.
Other Whiplash Symptoms and Associated Disorders
Other whiplash–associated disorders can include:
- Dizziness: Whiplash–related dizziness could be from neck instability or even a concussion (mild traumatic brain injury).
- Vision Problems: Blurry vision or other visual deficits can result from any number of causes, including concussion or damage to the nerves. Vision problems can also contribute to dizziness.
- Emotional Changes: A personal might become more irritable, anxious or even depressed. It can be hard to know if these changes are due to a concussion, posttraumatic stress syndrome, pain from the neck injury or stress from the accidents aftermath which could include litigation, financial worries, and/or the involvement of loved ones who were also injured. These symptoms can include prolonged sadness or unexplained crying spells, significant changes in appetite and sleep patterns, irritability, anger, worry, agitation, anxiety, pessimism and indifference, loss of energy, worthlessness, inability to concentrate, indecisiveness, inability to take pleasure from normal activities, social withdrawal, unexplained aches and pains and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal.
- Ringing in the Ears. Also called tinnitus. This ringing or buzzing in one or both ears can range from intermittent to minor to constant and be highly distracting. Any number of problems from whiplash can lead to tinnitus, such as an injury to part of the brain that controls hearing, nerves or vascular damage, jaw or injury or even stress. This can also be a sign of mild traumatic brain injury.
- Trouble Getting Good Sleep: A person might find it difficult to fall asleep or staying asleep. These problems with sleeping well and waking refreshed could be due to various whiplash–related factors such as pain, stress or concussion.
- Fatigue: Lack of energy could be related to difficulty sleeping, depression, stress, pain, concussion or various other causes.
- Memory and/or Concentration Problems. It is possible for someone to develop cognitive symptoms after a whiplash injury. These troubles could involve difficulty with memory or thinking. Sometimes the symptoms started shortly after the injury, or they might not show up until hours or days later. Cognitive problems could be from a brain injury, or perhaps it could be related to various types of stress.
- Challenges with Chewing, Swallowing or Speaking. Sometimes trauma to the muscles around the jaw can cause chewing or yawning to be painful.
- Difficulty Swallowing. Injury to the larynx or esophagus could make swallowing painful or more difficult.
Whiplash injuries are more than just minor neck pain. These injuries can be quite complex and require specialized doctors that understand these injuries and how to treat them.