Car accidents, especially rear-end collisions, represent one of the most common causes of whiplash. Symptoms of whiplash include pain, stiffness, muscle spasms and decreased range of motion in the neck, as well as headache, fatigue, memory disturbances and anxiety. Whiplash is generally not very serious, and most patients recover fully within a few days or weeks. However, the symptoms of whiplash can also mimic those of other, more severe injuries. Therefore, a patient who experiences symptoms such as these after a car accident should see a doctor for an evaluation.
According to Cleveland Clinic, a doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray, MRI or CT scan, of the patient’s neck after a car accident. However, these tests may not demonstrate the presence of whiplash definitively. The structures that become damaged due to whiplash are extremely small. Therefore, imaging tests may not be able to visualize them to assess for injury. Nevertheless, imaging tests are still valuable because they allow the doctor to rule out other injuries that could be causing pain and symptoms in the neck.
In addition to imaging tests, as the Mayo Clinic explains, the doctor will probably also perform a physical examination. This involves checking reflexes, sensation and strength in the limbs and tenderness in the back, neck and shoulders. The doctor also typically assesses the range of motion of the neck and shoulders, evaluating the degree to which movement causes pain. The examination consists of the doctor asking the patient to perform simple tasks involving movement and gauging the response.
Most cases of whiplash resolve on their own with little to no intervention. However, some patients experience chronic pain and other long-term negative effects of whiplash.