Dealing With Whiplash
The seven bones that make up the structure of your neck are stacked on top of each other, with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is relatively flexible, so and it relies on your muscles and ligaments for support. "Whiplash" describes a situation where these tissues are stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its capacity.
Auto accidents are by far the leading cause of whiplash. Up to 83% of people involved in car accidents sustain some form of a whiplash injury. Several variables can be used to determine the seriousness of your injuries. In a rear-end crash, patients who are hit from behind normally sustain the most serious injuries.
Being struck by a larger or heavier vehicle can also greatly increase your risk. Your vehicle does not need to be visibly damaged in order for you to sustain an injury. In actuality, the amount of damage to your vehicle has a very limited relationship to your injuries. Most modern cars have shock-absorbing bumpers that do their best to minimize damage to the vehicle but do not provide much protection to the occupants in low-speed collisions. Rear-end impacts of less than 5 MPH routinely give rise to significant symptoms.
Other factors that increase your chance of sustaining a whiplash injury include: improperly positioned head restraints, wet or icy roads, having your head rotated or extended at the time of impact, and being unaware of the impending collision.
Our muscle tissues become less elastic as we age, increasing our risk of injury. On average, females are more likely than males to be injured. People who have pre-existing arthritis are more likely to develop complaints.
Whiplash symptoms may appear right away or take time to appear. You may experience some soreness in the front of your neck at first, but this should subside quickly. Ongoing complaints about whiplash often include dull neck pain that will become sharper when you move your head. The pain is most commonly focused in the back of your neck but can spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades.
Tension headaches will regularly accompany neck injuries. Dizziness and TMJ problems are possible. Symptoms may also increase slowly over time. Rest may relieve your symptoms for a period of time but often will also lead to stiffness. Be sure to inform us if you have any signs 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.
Sprain/strain injuries cause your normal and highly elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to ongoing pain and even arthritis. Up to a year after a car accident, more than half of those injured will experience neck pain. It is important to seek care as soon as possible. If you are riding with others, it is quite possible that they suffered an injury as well. It would be in everyone's best interest to be examined as soon as possible.
You will need to be careful about your activities and limit taxing and strenuous activity for a while, depending on the severity of your injury, but you must remember that pain is a natural reaction to injury and that severely restricting your activities of daily living may delay your recovery. You should try to "act as usual" and resume normal daily activities as your body allows.
You should also try to avoid wearing heavy headgear, like a hardhat or helmet, if possible. Cervical collars rarely help and should be avoided unless otherwise directed by a medical professional. You can try to apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour for the first couple of days. Heat may be helpful thereafter. Ask your doctor for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report some success in pain relief from sports creams.