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Glendale Adventist Medical Center
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Glendale, CA 91206
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Whiplash Won't "Whip" You for Long

Posted on: 11/30/1999
If your car is rear-ended, your neck may pay the price. Whiplash happens when your neck snaps back and forth during a collision. It often results in neck stiffness. How long does this stiffness usually last?

One hundred forty-one people with whiplash from rear-end collisions participated in this study. On average, there was a 40 kilometers per hour difference in the speeds of the colliding vehicles. The accidents were generally described as "minor." Patients with whiplash symptoms (headache and neck pain) were included in the study if they didn't become unconscious during the accident or have amnesia afterward. Most of the subjects were using headrests and seat belts at the time of impact.

Subjects were matched with people of the same age and sex who were being treated for an entirely different problem, ankle sprain. This set of subjects gave the researchers a "normal" comparison group. Scientists match subjects in a research study to get a clearer idea of how factors (like whiplash) impact participants.

The subjects with whiplash showed less neck movement than the comparison group on the day of their accidents. Of the movements they were asked to perform, they had the most trouble moving their necks up and down. Three months later, however, there were no differences between the two groups in amount of neck movement. This suggests that people with whiplash may get "normal" neck movement back within three months of injury.

The severity of the accident didn't seem to affect patients' whiplash. The speeds of the colliding cars and extent of car damage were not related to patients' amount of neck movement, either right after the accident or three months later.

For subjects with whiplash, less neck movement was often accompanied by neck pain and headaches. But unlike the costs of car repair, these symptoms went away quickly, and without lasting effects.

Helge Kasch, MD, PhD, et al. Headache, Neck Pain, and Neck Mobility after Acute Whiplash Injury. In Spine. June 1, 2001. Vol. 26. No. 11. Pp. 1246-1251.

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