Whiplash is one of the most common injuries that result from a car accident. Whether you are rear-ended or are in a frontal collision, the force can damage muscles and ligaments in your neck.
How Does Whiplash Happen?
There’s a bit of physics involved in understanding how whiplash happens. Your body moves in the same direction and just as fast as the vehicle you’re driving. When you’re in an accident and the car stops abruptly, your body actually continues moving forward at the same rate of speed. This motion forcefully throws your head forward and then back, causing whiplash.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Some people feel the symptoms of whiplash right after an accident, while others may not experience any consequences for several days. In addition, symptoms may go away quickly or they may linger and become a chronic condition.
- Mild to severe neck pain
- Neck stiffness or decreased range of motion
- Instability in the neck
- Shoulder and upper back pain
- Weakness, tingling or numbness down the arms
In the most severe cases of whiplash, there may also be neurologic-like symptoms. Some patients complain of ringing in the ears, blurred vision, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, nausea, and difficulty sleeping. If you experience any of these symptoms, then you may have suffered a concussion as a result of the car accident’s impact. See your general practitioner as soon as possible or have someone take you to the nearest emergency room if you suspect that you have a concussion.
How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
Dallas chiropractor will meet with you to discuss what happened during the accident and the symptoms you’ve been feeling since. He will ask important questions such as:
- When did the symptoms start?
- Can you describe the pain?
- Where and how much does it hurt?
- Is the pain constant or does it come and go?
- Are you having any tingling or weakness down your arms?
Then, Dr. Z. will carefully and gently examine your neck, shoulders and back. He will observe your neck and posture to see if there is a misalignment or other type of abnormality and he will feel for tenderness or tightness. Your range of motion will also be tested, as well as your reflexes, muscle strength and ability to feel sensation.
What is the Treatment for Whiplash?
For the first few days after your car accident, rest is very important. Your neck needs time to heal, so avoid movements that might aggravate the injury. Staying active is important to physical and emotional healing, but don’t over exert yourself.
Ice and heat therapy can also be helpful. Ice reduces pain and swelling for 24 to 48 hours after injury, then heat may be applied if this is comforting.
Dr. Z, your doctor after auto accident, may also recommend a course of chiropractic adjustments, rehabilitation or exercises. Each treatment plan is individualized so yours will depend on the specifics of your whiplash injury.
How Long Do Whiplash Symptoms Last?
Most people begin to notice an improvement with a few weeks. However, in severe cases of whiplash, several weeks to months may be needed for healing and for symptoms to go away. Dr. Z. recommends sticking to your treatment plan and keeping a positive attitude. Also, be sure to mention any new symptoms or changes in existing ones.
When Should I Return to Work?
If you feel up to returning to work, then you should. You do not need to be 100 percent symptom free before you get back to your normal routine of activities. In fact, research shows there is therapeutic benefit to maintaining your regular work and life schedule.
Are There Exercises I Can Do to Help?
After whiplash, many people try to avoid moving their necks. However, this may actually lead to your symptoms getting worse rather than better. With disuse, neck muscles can weaken, which could lead to further loss of range of motion.
North Dallas chiropractor Dr. Z. will create an exercise plan designed to restore normal muscle function, improve range of motion and reduce pain.
Will I Need to Make Any Lifestyle Changes?
A few lifestyle changes can help protect your neck as you heal from whiplash and even after your symptoms go away.
Don’t sit in one position for more than 30 minutes. Take breaks and move around. When you are seated, place a rolled towel between the chair and your lower back to help you keep good posture.
Sit correctly in front of the computer. We tend to round our shoulders when working at a computer keyboard. Remind yourself to lift your chest, move your shoulders back and down and tip your chin down slightly. Keep your feet flat on the floor, and adjust the chair so the monitor is at eye level. The keyboard should be positioned at a level where your shoulders are relaxed and your arms are at your sides.
Reaching, Bending and Lifting. If you need to reach something that is more than an arm’s distance away, get up and walk to the object rather than stretching to reach it. When reaching overhead, stand on a stepstool. Avoid tipping your head back to see—look up with your eyes instead. Don’t bend at the waist to pick up something on the floor. Bend at the knee instead in order to maintain good spinal posture and to reduce neck strain. Similarly, use your legs for heavy lifting and keep the load as close as possible to your body. Do not lift anything if you’ve recently had a whiplash injury and your symptoms are new. And of course, if you feel pain when reaching, bending or lifting, STOP!
What is Late Whiplash Syndrome?
Late whiplash syndrome is a collection of symptoms and disabilities that occur more than six months after a neck injury due to an auto accident. They consist of headache, neck pain and stiffness, and depression, as well as anxiety. Late whiplash syndrome is more common among women ages 21 to 40.