Understanding Whiplash

What Is Whiplash?

Your neck is constructed from seven bones that are stacked on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc within each level. Your neck is relatively flexible, so it relies on your tissues and ligaments for support. "Whiplash" explains what occurs when these tissues are spread too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its capacity.

Whiplash & Auto Accidents

Auto accidents are the principal cause of whiplash. Up to 83% of people who were in an accident will experience a whiplash injury. The extent of your injury can be prognosticated by several factors. Patients who are hit from behind in a rear-end collision generally suffer the most injury. Being struck by a bigger or heavier vehicle also enhances your risk. Your vehicle is not required to be visibly damaged in order for you to be injured. In fact, the amount of harm to your vehicle has little relation to your injuries. Most new cars have shock-absorbing bumpers that minimize damage to the vehicle but do not significantly protect the inhabitants in low-speed collisions. Rear-end impacts of less than 5 MPH routinely give rise to notable symptoms.

Other factors that raise your chance of injury include: improperly placed head restraints, wet or icy roads, having your head rotated or extended at the time of impact, and being ignorant of the impending collision. As we age, our tissues grow less elastic, and our risk of injury increases. Women are more likely to be injured than males. Those who have pre-existing arthritis are more prone to develop complaints.

Symptoms Of Whiplash

Symptoms may begin quickly or have a delayed start. Initially, you may notice some soreness in the front of your neck that usually fades quickly. Ongoing complaints often involve dull neck pain that grows sharper when you move your head. The pain is usually centred in the back of your neck but can grow to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades. Tension headaches usually follow neck injuries. Dizziness and TMJ problems are possible. Symptoms may increase over time. Rest may reduce your symptoms but often leads to stiffness.

Be sure to notify your doctor if you have any symptoms of a more serious injury, including a severe or "different" headache, loss of consciousness, confusion, or "fogginess," difficulty concentrating, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, change in vision, nausea, vomiting, numbness or tingling in your arms or face, weakness or clumsiness in your arms and hands, decreased bowel or bladder control, or fever.

Sprains & Strains

Sprain/strain injuries make your natural healthy elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to continuous pain and even arthritis. Over half of those who are hurt will have neck pain up to a year following their accident. Seeking immediate and proper treatment, like the type given in our office, is crucial. If you are riding with others, it is quite likely that they too were injured. It would be in every passenger's best interest to be examined as soon as possible. 

Depending on the severity of your injury, you may need to restrict heavy activity for a period of time, but you must realize that pain is a natural reaction to injury and that significantly restricting your activities of daily living may delay your recovery. You should try to "act as usual" and continue normal daily actions as soon as possible. Avoid heavy lifting, and take regular breaks from prolonged activity, especially overhead activity. Avoid wearing heavy headgear, like a hardhat or helmet, if possible. Cervical collars seldom help and should be avoided unless otherwise directed. You can apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour for the first few days. Heat may be helpful thereafter. Ask your doctor for specific ice/heat advice. Some patients report partial relief from sports creams.

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