Whiplash and fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is always difficult to diagnose, especially following a road traffic accident as it can follow on and progress from an initial injury involving whiplash.

Fibromyalgia is a pain syndrome of chronic widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue. The pain is thought to be caused by abnormalities in the pain pathways in the central nervous system, and is most commonly caused, or exacerbated by, physical traumas, such as car accidents and falls, often due to no fault of the patient. This is why it can often be initiated or exacerbated by whiplash.

There is no specific test to give a straight diagnosis of fibromyalgia and therefore it may take some time to get to the final answer. The symptoms of fibromyalgia are very similar to several other conditions hence it is well-known for its difficulty when it comes to diagnosis. Neck and shoulder tenderness is one common indicator that is used to diagnose fibromyalgia; general pain lasting longer than three months is another. Although fibromyalgia shares some symptoms with whiplash, a differentiating factor is that whiplash is centered on the neck and, back, and shoulders, whereas fibromyalgia is pain throughout the whole body.

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to your neck/back, caused by your neck bending forcibly forward and then backward, or vice versa. The injury usually involves the muscles, discs, nerves, and tendons in your neck and back, and feels like a dull aching pain resulting in a stiff neck and back often making it difficult to turn your head from side to side. The pain can extend to the shoulders as well.

What Are The Symptoms of Whiplash?

Whiplash can present itself in a variety of ways and most commonly comes about as a result of the sudden jolt that occurs in the course of a car accident, or from a vehicle impacting another from behind, causing the driver and passengers’ heads to jolt. Key symptoms of whiplash include:

  • neck pain and stiffness
  • worsening of pain with neck movement
  • loss of range of motion in the neck
  • headaches, most often starting at the base of the skull
  • tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms
  • tingling or numbness in the arms
  • fatigue
  • dizziness

With whiplash, the majority of neck pain goes away within a few weeks, and even more within three months, although it can last longer. Studies show that between 12% and 50% of people still have persistent neck pain after a year. Like most other injuries, serious side effects can occur if it is left untreated, therefore it is important to try and get an accurate diagnosis from your doctor as soon as possible.

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is usually a long-lasting problem that doesn’t just go away six months later, not even after treatment. It is characterized by tender points all over the body, not just in the neck and shoulder areas and as a general rule, people with whiplash-associated disorders tend to have local tender points (i.e. just in the neck and shoulder and not anywhere else).

What Are The Main Symptoms of Fibromyalgia to Look Out For?

You should always consult a medical expert on fibromyalgia expert rather than self-diagnose. However, the symptoms of fibromyalgia to look out for include:

  • widespread pain
  • extreme sensitivity
  • stiffness
  • fatigue
  • poor sleep quality
  • cognitive problems (‘fibro-fog)
  • headaches
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Other symptoms that people with fibromyalgia sometimes experience include dizziness and clumsiness; feeling too hot or too cold; an overwhelming urge to move your legs (restless legs syndrome); tingling, numbness, prickling or burning sensations in your hands and feet (pins and needles); in women, unusually painful periods; anxiety; and depression.

Whether it is whiplash or fibromyalgia, don’t ignore the symptoms following an accident and speak to a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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