Named for its resemblance to the fast snapping action of a whip, whiplash is an injury that occurs when your head and neck are jerked during an impact such as a car accident. Rapid movement like that is unnatural and can cause severe damage to the soft tissues in your neck as they are stretched beyond their normal range. This type of injury is actually the most common injury sustained during accidents, so while it can be painful and cause problems, proper treatment is available to help you make a full recovery.
Identifying Whiplash Early
One of the best indicators of a short and complete recovery from whiplash is how early the patient was able to begin treatment. However, this can be less obvious than it sounds because the symptoms of whiplash do not always appear right away. For many people, they don’t begin to suspect they’ve been injured until hours, or even days, after they’ve been in a car accident. Because of a lack of symptoms, they aren’t seeking care. The best thing to do is seek medical care after a car accident, whether you feel pain or not.
By the time whiplash symptoms do appear, the damage may have already become worse due to movement, inflammation, and a lack of treatment. When symptoms do occur, they can include one or more of the following:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Pain in the shoulder, back, or arms
- Limited range of motion
You should always visit a doctor if you notice these problems, but even without them, a skilled chiropractor can identify whiplash before you begin to suffer.
Short- and Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
Once you have been diagnosed with whiplash, you can begin treatment immediately. Your treatment plan may vary in length depending on the severity of your injury and what tissues were impacted. Whiplash is commonly fully healed within about six months of the original injury, though up to one-third of patients report neck pain for ten years. An even smaller fraction may experience chronic pain for the rest of their lives.
The first weeks of your whiplash treatment can give you a general sense of what your outlook will be. Excruciating pain in the beginning could indicate a worse injury and a higher chance of lingering symptoms. If you have pre-existing conditions like arthritis, chronic headaches, or a former neck injury, you should also expect a longer recovery period and more lasting problems.
If whiplash is present for over six months, it becomes chronic whiplash by definition. This condition will be treated with additional pain management and physical therapy. It’s critical to keep your head and neck mobile during this treatment as it can reduce the time you suffer.
As a condition, whiplash is defined by symptoms rather than being identified by a single marker. When symptoms are gone, whiplash is considered to have been effectively treated.
When you’re in pain, many people’s first reaction is to use medication and other coping mechanisms to relieve the pain. While this provides temporary relief and can allow for some much-needed rest, whiplash requires proper treatment in order to actually be healed. Chiropractic care focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying cause of symptoms, rather than hiding them through pain relief. This is often done in conjunction with other forms of care, such as physical therapy, in order to ensure the body is fully healed and prepared for a return to normal functioning.
Whiplash is best treated with a holistic approach that combines forms of treatment. Chiropractic adjustments are key as they help align your spine, restoring motion to your neck and shoulders and easing tension in your damaged tissue. This is most often paired with physical therapy that helps you regain range of motion and move safely again. You may also perform some home care, such as heat and ice therapy, to relieve symptoms when needed.
Depending on the treatments you are prescribed and your individual prognosis, a chiropractor will be able to help you estimate a timeline for your healing. They will use this to set up goals during your recovery, periodically checking your progress against these goals as you work together.
At AICA, our team is made up of multiple providers like chiropractors and physical therapists who will work together to ensure the best possible outcome. When you schedule your first consultation with AICA, we will use our expertise to discuss your prognosis and potential treatment plans, walking you through exactly what to expect as you recover.