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.
Whiplash is most often caused by automobile collisions. Whiplash injuries affect up to 83 percent of people who are involved in car accidents. The extent of your injury can be measured and viewed through several factors. Patients who are struck from behind in a rear-end collision will usually suffer the most significant injury.
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.
Improperly placed head restraints, wet or slippery surfaces, getting your head turned or stretched at the moment of impact, and being unaware of the imminent crash are all factors that increase the risk of suffering a whiplash injury.
As our bodies begin to grow older, our muscle tissues become less elastic, and our risk of injury increases. Females are on average more likely to be injured than males. People who have pre-existing arthritis are more likely to develop complaints.
Whiplash symptoms can occur immediately or over time. At first, you may feel some soreness in the front of your neck, but this should go away 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.
When you sustain a sprain or strain, your regular, highly elastic tissue is replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to ongoing pain and even arthritis. Over half of those who are injured in an auto accident will have neck pain up to a year after their accident. Seeking treatment as soon as you are able is essential. 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.