Most people are familiar with whiplash. As the most common injury sustained in car accidents, it’s seen often and even a term used to describe other, similar feelings. In most cases, whiplash is an uncomfortable yet treatable injury and is not considered a long term problem. However, whiplash can be more complicated than it looks, and when it does not appear immediately or isn’t properly addressed, it can cause more problems in the future. Without proper treatment for whiplash, there can be dangers most people don’t know about.
What Is Whiplash?
Most simply, whiplash is a strain or tear that occurs in the soft tissue surrounding the neck and shoulders that results from a jerking, back and forth motion that the head endures during a collision. However, those in the medical field know that it can be more complicated than that. The damage to your soft tissue can be sustained at even very low speeds but can be serious enough to cause long-term problems.
When you think about the mechanics, whiplash can be traumatic to the body. Whiplash is one of the most common types of injuries in rear-end collisions. It usually means that you were either stopped or traveling at a steady speed before your car was hit from behind. Your body then lurches forward, while your head is stationary for a moment. When the head catches up, it whips at an unnatural speed and angle to catch up, leading to the damage as your tissue is stretched beyond its capacity. This delay usually causes the most damage and results in a whiplash injury.
Short-Term Effects of Whiplash
If you have sustained a whiplash injury, it’s possible you will begin to experience symptoms immediately following your crash but more commonly there will be a gap of time before you notice anything different. Adrenaline and shock after an accident can lead symptoms to be delayed and appear days or hours after the car accident. Common symptoms that may occur include:
- Headaches or migraines
- Neck pain
- Stiffness in the neck and shoulders
- Mid or lower back pain
- Shoulder pain
- Ringing in the ears
- Blurred vision
While most of these symptoms go away with proper treatment for whiplash, left unattended you may notice them worsen or recur over time. The more time you wait to seek treatment, the harder it may be to address your symptoms or stop them from worsening. Even if you are not yet experiencing symptoms of whiplash after a car accident, it can be good to seek medical treatment promptly to begin healing before more damage can occur.
Long-Term Effects of Whiplash
Untreated whiplash can cause effects that last a long time or even become chronic and lifelong when not treated properly. Some potential consequences of avoiding treatment for whiplash include:
- Permanent neck impairments
- Loss of range of motion in the neck
- Permanent postural impairments
- Injuries to the ligaments
- Degenerative joint or disc disease
- Ringing in the ears
- Diminished eyesight
- Temporal Mandibular Degeneration
- Recurring headaches and migraines
- Chronic neck, back, and shoulder pain
It is important to know that one mild symptom can lead to the onset of others over time. For example, a headache that goes untreated could cause other issues, like migraines, which may impact your ability to perform daily tasks. This could then lead to TMJ problems or cause permanent ringing in the ears.
When symptoms last more than 6 months, the condition begins to be known as “chronic whiplash” and may require more intensive treatment.
Once a doctor is able to diagnose you with whiplash, a mild case may be easily handled at home. Rest, gentle exercise, and use of hot and cold therapy may be prescribed, along with pain medication in moderation, to help the damage heal. In more serious cases, treatment for whiplash may include muscle relaxers and physical therapy.
Contrary to popular belief, the use of braces or other stabilizing mechanisms is not recommended as a way to treat whiplash. While sudden or strenuous movements are detrimental to recovery, it is important to maintain gentle movements and help the neck rebuild strength, which may be prevented by a neck brace. These methods may be useful if you have to undergo surgery or other invasive treatment methods.
If you have been in a car accident and suspect whiplash, AICA Orthopedics offers comprehensive care for your injuries. By combining chiropractor, orthopedic, and neurological care, we are able to create treatment plans for whiplash that are personalized and designed with your goals in mind. Contact us today to schedule your first consultation to begin recovery early.