Whiplash is an injury caused by quick trauma to the body. Most whiplash injuries are caused by car accidents, but they can occur whenever the body undergoes physical stress caused by outside forces, such as sports injuries, being shaken physically (such as shaking a child), repeated stresses to the body, and falling down.
The reason that it’s difficult to diagnose whiplash is because it often doesn’t manifest physical injuries that can be seen via an x-ray. Whiplash is only diagnosed where it affects the upper part of the body. It mainly affects the neck and shoulder area, which is why whiplash patients often wear collars to help restrict neck movement. However, whiplash can also affect the arms and both the upper and lower back.
As stated earlier, there are no real tests that can determine whiplash. In the event of a traumatic injury, x-rays are typically done to make sure that there are no broken bones that might need to be repaired. It’s also possible a person could get a MRI or CT scan, but these also often come back with negative results.
In terms of treating whiplash, rest is sometimes the best treatment option, because it takes time for the body to heal—sometimes as long as a couple of months. In the meantime, there are plenty of things that can be done to help ease the pain including massage, pain killers, going to a chiropractor, hot baths and cold compresses to bring down swelling, and even physical therapy. A doctor will probably try to immobilize areas such as the neck and possibly the shoulders and arms as much as possible to restrict movement, and might even prescribe a back brace.
A physician or therapist will also request that a patient with whiplash start trying to move and exercise those affected areas within 72 hours of an injury, to get range of motion going again, even if braced. The idea isn’t to relieve pain as much as keep the body from getting stiff, and to start strengthening areas affected by the trauma.