As the roads become increasingly slippery, more auto accidents are occurring at an alarming rate. The sharp or sudden stops are causing whiplash injuries to not only the driver but all the passengers involved. These injuries unfortunately do not always cause sudden pain but can manifest over time and are not limited to motor vehicles accidents. They also occur from falls, sports injuries, work injuries, and other incidents.
Whiplash is a generic term applied to injuries of the neck caused when the neck is suddenly and/or violently jolted in one direction and then another, creating a whip-like movement. Whiplash injuries most often result in sprain-strain of the neck. The ligaments that help support, protect, and restrict excessive movement of the vertebrae are torn, which is called a sprain. The joints in the back of the spine, called the facet joints, are covered by ligaments called facet capsules, which seem to be particularly susceptible to a whiplash injury.
When the muscles and tendons are strained—stretched beyond their normal limits, the discs between the vertebrae, which are essentially ligaments, can be torn, potentially causing a disc herniation. As this occurs the nerve roots between the vertebrae may also be stretched and become inflamed. Even though it is very rare, vertebrae can be fractured and/or dislocated in a whiplash injury.
What Are Common Signs and Symptoms of Whiplash
The most common symptoms of whiplash are pain and stiffness in the neck. These symptoms are generally found in the areas that are “whiplashed.” For example, during a whiplash, first the head is lifted up from the upper-cervical spine. This creates a sprain/strain in the region just below the skull, where symptoms usually occur. Symptoms may also commonly be seen in the front and back of the neck. Turning the head often makes the pain and discomfort worse.
Headache, especially at the base of the skull, is also a common symptom, seen in more than two thirds of patients. These headaches may be one-sided (unilateral) or experienced on both sides (bilateral). The pain and stiffness may extend down into the shoulders and arms, upper back, and even the upper chest.
In addition to the musculoskeletal symptoms, some patients also experience dizziness, difficulty swallowing, nausea, and even blurred vision after a whiplash injury. While these symptoms are disconcerting, in most cases, they disappear within a relatively short time. If they persist, it is very important to inform your doctor that they are not resolving. Vertigo (the sensation of the room spinning) and ringing in the ears may also be seen, as well as some patients may feel pain in the jaw. Others will even complain of irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms also resolve quickly in most cases. In rare cases, symptoms can persist for weeks, months, or even years.
Treatment of Whiplash
One of the most important aspects of whiplash management is for the patient to stay active, unless there is some serious injury that requires immobilization. Patients should not be afraid to move and be active, within reason. In addition, your doctor will often prescribe an exercise or stretching program. It is particularly important to follow this program as prescribed, so that you can achieve the best long-term benefits.
Chiropractic Treatments and Physical Therapy
Chiropractic treatments provided by a chiropractor will provide neck pain relief and begin structural corrections of any misalignments that are identified. Ice and/or heat are often used to help control pain and reduce the muscle spasm that results from whiplash injuries. Other physical therapy modalities, such as electrical stimulation and/or ultrasound, may also provide short-term relief. They can, however, be very complimentary to an active-care program of exercise and stretching.
How We Can Help!
If you have suffered in an accident that has resulted in a whiplash injury, call today and schedule an in depth examination and consultation so we can help you stop the pain quickly and avoid other hazards to your health.
For Your Health,
Dr. Scott Van Dam