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Any injury which causes the head to move sharply, whether that is sideways, backward or forward, can cause injury to the tendons and ligaments in the neck. Often associated with the sudden impact of a car crash, such injuries can also be caused by a blow to the head, a slip, trip or fall or by a sports injury, particularly in contact sports such as karate, boxing or rugby.
Known as whiplash, this injury should be reported to a medical practitioner or GP, who may want to conduct tests to rule out more severe problems, and who may well prescribe the use of a neck support in order to ease the initial pain of this condition.
Whiplash can cause a number of symptoms, including:
Loss of neck movement
Additional problems associated with the condition include dizziness, vertigo, blurred vision, tiredness and pins and needles in the arms and hands. These side effects can also be an indication of concussion or a more serious head injury and should be checked by a medical professional to ensure that there is not a deeper underlying problem.
Usually there are no initial problems in the aftermath of the injury, with the symptoms of whiplash taking up to 24 hours to develop. Although initially slow to manifest, the pain and stiffness can continue for several weeks and sometimes longer. The condition can sometimes become chronic, lasting for months and causing anxiety and depression in sufferers.
Although a neck support is sometimes used in the earliest stages of recovery, most health professionals advise keeping the neck mobile with gentle exercises to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments. Although exercise can be painful, the current trend is to keep exercising as this is believed to hasten the healing process.
For more straightforward neck injuries, over-the-counter painkillers should be sufficient. Paracetamol should be taken regularly to begin with, rather than just when pain is experienced. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can be helpful in relieving any inflammation at the site of injury, but should not be used by anyone who has suffered from heart or liver problems or stomach ulcers. Doctors will prescribe codeine, often in conjunction with paracetamol, when the pain of whiplash is particularly severe.
A physiotherapist can provide exercises to help to strengthen the neck and restore it to full mobility. These will usually be accompanied by massage and manipulation to aid healing and a series of exercises will be provided to be continued on a daily basis until full neck function is restored.
Whiplash is regarded as a self-limiting condition, meaning that in most cases it will clear up on its own. However, many sufferers find they can help things along by concentrating on good posture and providing adequate neck support at night.