Most people associate whiplash with automobile accidents, and while this isn't the only occasion where this kind of injury can occur, it's an appropriate correlation. Just like a car wreck, you can't prepare for or prevent whiplash other than by being cautious. It happens because of a quick, unexpected incident, such as a fall or collision, so it's plain old unlucky if you or someone you know gets whiplash. While you want to do your best to avoid this situation, it's just as important to recognize whiplash symptoms so you can receive proper care and treatment.
Causes and Diagnosis
Whiplash refers to injuries of the neck, head, and spine as a result of a whiplike movement when your head is suddenly and violently thrust in one direction and then immediately in another direction. As stated, whiplash is common following a car accident, but falls, sports injuries, and work injuries are other potential causes.
Whiplash occurs when the neck ligaments are sprained. According to the American Chiropractic Association, these ligaments are important because they support and stop your vertebrae from movement. Whiplash also often affects the joints in the back of the spine, called facet joints.
In some occurrences, discs between the vertebrae may be torn. Whiplash can also stretch and inflame the nerve roots between the vertebrae, and, at worst, cause vertebrae fractures and/or dislocation.
A Plethora of Symptoms
Whiplash symptoms vary between people and causes, but some are more common than others. The most typical symptoms are pain and stiffness in the neck, especially when you turn your head. Headaches, particularly at the base of the skull, are also common. On some occasions, pain may occur in the shoulders, arms, upper back, or upper chest.
Other features may include dizziness, trouble swallowing, nausea, vertigo, ringing in the ears, jaw pain, and blurred vision, though these symptoms often go away quickly. If they linger or become chronic, you should contact your doctor. You may also experience mental symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, and trouble concentrating.
It's important to note that you may not notice any of these symptoms for two to 48 hours after a fall, collision, or other whiplash-causing incident, so be sure to pay attention to your body after any kind of accident that affects your neck.
Treatment: Keep Moving
Though the pain and discomfort from whiplash may make you want to stay in bed, it's important to be active (unless the injury requires you to be immobilized). This movement may come from doing your usual day-to-day activities, or it could be an exercise routine your doctor prescribes. Either way, be sure to follow your doctor's advice on safely staying active to ensure a better long-term recovery.
Other ways to treat whiplash include ice and/or heated compresses for reducing pain and muscle spasms, as well as physical therapy techniques, such as electrical stimulation. Chiropractors may also suggest spinal manipulation and/or mobilization. These alternative treatment regimens, however, should not be used in place of doctor-approved movement and activity.
If you or a loved one is the victim of whiplash from a car accident or other occurrence, talk to your doctor about the different ways you can alleviate the symptoms and make life a little easier. You can never be too careful, but because whiplash occurs from unexpected incidents, you'll never be able to prevent it entirely. What's most important is recognizing the sometimes-subtle symptoms so you can get the treatment you need.