What are the root causes of Whiplash?
Your neck is actually made up of seven bones that are on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is fairly flexible, so it really needs your muscles and ligaments for support. "Whiplash" is what happens to your neck when these muscles and ligaments are stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope which starts to unravel when it is stretched beyond its capacity.
Automobile accidents are the likely cause of whiplash for most cases. Up to 83% of people that are in an accident will suffer a whiplash injury. The extent of your injury can be predicted by several factors. Patients who are struck from behind in a rear-end collision generally suffer the most injury. Getting into an accident with a larger or heavier vehicle can also increases your risk of injury. Your vehicle does not have to be visibly dented or damaged in order for you to have sustained an injury. The amount of damage to your vehicle has little to no conneciton to your injuries. Most newer models of vehicels have added shock-absorbent bumpers to minimize damage to the vehicle itself, but they do not really protect the passengers in low-speed accidents. Rear-end hits from cars travelling less than 5 MPH usually give rise to significant symptoms.
Some of the factors that increase your chance of injury from automobiles include: improperly positioned head restraints, wet or icy roads, having your head turned in any way or stretched at the time of impact, and being unaware of the coming collision. As we get older, our tissues become less elastic, and our risk of injury becomes even more realisitic. Females have a tendency to be more likely to be injured than males in this regard. Those who have pre-existing arthritis are more likely to develop complaints.
Symptoms may begin immediately or have a delayed onset from the time of the accident. For starters, you may notice some soreness in the front of your neck that generally fades quickly. Continuous complaints often include dull neck pain that becomes more intense when you move your head. The pain is generally focused in the back of your neck but it is possible that it can spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades. Tension headaches can accompany neck injuries. Dizziness and TMJ problems are possible. Symptoms may get worse over time. Rest may relieve your symptoms but often leads to stiffness. Be sure to tell your doctor 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 elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to continual pain and it could cause arthritis. More than half of those passengers who were injured will more than likely still have neck pain for up to a year after their accident. Seeking early and appropriate treatment is the best way to take care of yourself, like the type provided in our office, is critical. If you are riding with other people, it is quite possible that they too were injured in the same way. 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 limit a varity of activities for a while, but pain is a very normal reaction to injury and that significantly limiting your activities of daily living may delay your recovery. You should try to "act as usual" and resume normal daily activities as soon as possible within reason. Avoid heavy lifting, and take constant breaks from prolonged activity, particularly overhead activity. Avoid wearing heavy headgear, like a hardhat or helmet, if possible, taking care of your neck. Cervical collars very rarely help and should be avoided unless otherwise directed by a Doctor or Chiropractor. You should 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 partial relief from sports creams.