A whiplash injury is a painful neck injury that’s very common after a car accident, particularly rear-end accidents. However, car accidents are not the only cause of whiplash. Whiplash may also result due to sports activities, horse riding accidents, bicycle accidents, falls where the neck snaps backwards, and even physical abuse. Regardless of the exact cause, whiplash can have severe short and long term consequences.
What Is Whiplash Injury & How Is It Caused?
Whiplash is a type of neck injury that results from the rapid and forceful back-and-forth movement of the head. The speed and force of the movement have often been compared to a whip cracking. This rapid flexion and extension of the neck strain the neck muscles and ligaments, extending them beyond their normal range of motion. This extreme movement also causes soft tissue damage and injures the inter-vertebral joints, discs, nerve roots, and cervical muscles. While recovering from a mild whiplash injury can take a few weeks, recovery from severe symptoms can take several months or even years.
Symptoms Of Whiplash Injury From A Car Accident
Common whiplash symptoms from a car accident include but are not limited to:
- Mild to severe neck pain that gets worse with any movement.
- Tightness or stiffness in the neck with limited range of motion.
- Headaches, usually originating from the bottom of the skull.
- Extreme fatigue.
- Numbness or tingling in the arms.
- Pain or tenderness in the shoulders, arms, and upper back.
- Upper to mid-back pain.
Less common symptoms of whiplash include:
- Blurry vision.
- Trouble staying focused.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Memory problems.
- Anxiety problems.
Some of these symptoms of whiplash may develop within a day of the car accident while others may manifest after a few days or even later. A forceful impact that results in whiplash can cause a concussion, that you may not feel or notice right away. This is why you should always get an immediate medical checkup even if you think you’re unhurt after a car crash. This one step can help prevent any unnoticeable injuries from worsening.
How Does A Doctor Diagnose Whiplash From A Car Accident?
Knowing that you were in a car accident, your doctor will conduct a series of tests to diagnose possible whiplash and internal injuries. These tests will usually progress in a certain order to confirm or rule out any injuries.
To start with, your doctor will ask you to perform some simple everyday tasks such as moving your arms, neck, and head in various directions. The way you react when performing a specific action helps the doctor to gauge your reflexes and strength, range of motion, and the extent of pain you’re experiencing. Depending on your reactions, the doctor may prescribe further tests.
You could expect your doctor to also order X-rays and other imaging tests for a more thorough investigation.
Short & Long Term Whiplash Treatment
Your exact treatment for whiplash after a car accident will depend on your diagnosis. Your doctor will recommend a treatment regimen that specifically addresses your symptoms and the type and severity of your injuries. Every whiplash sufferer experiences different symptoms and treatments vary accordingly.
If you’re experiencing severe pain, you can expect to start taking medication to ease the pain. Depending on the extent of the pain, your doctor might also recommend corticosteroid injections or muscle relaxants to ease the muscle spasms and the pain.
You will be advised to limit your movements for a certain amount of time until your next follow up appointment. This is very important. Limiting your neck movement is key to preventing further neck damage. It stabilises the muscles and ligaments in the neck and promotes faster healing.
If your whiplash is very severe, you may be advised to wear a neck collar. This is a type of soft foam brace that’s placed around the neck. It helps support the neck muscles and prevents them from moving.
Your doctor might also recommend physiotherapy for certain types of injuries. A physiotherapist will employ various techniques from ice, heat, massage, and manipulation to ultrasound and electrical stimulation. All of these are designed to relax the muscles, soothe the pain, and strengthen the muscles. The physiotherapist will also recommend a series of neck exercises.
Whiplash Recovery And Prognosis
Most car accident victims recover completely from whiplash within weeks with proper treatment. In others, however, the symptoms persist much longer. Some experience lifelong symptoms. Long-term pain can usually be traced back to severe damage to the disk, joint or ligament in the neck or upper back.
Chronic pain from whiplash and back injury can drastically lower the quality of life. It makes it much more challenging for the sufferer to carry out their every chores, much less participate in their favourite activities.
It’s difficult to foresee whether a person with whiplash will recover completely or not and how long their complete recovery may take. Generally, those who suffer severe whiplash injuries and experience intense symptoms immediately after a car accident have a lower chance of full recovery. They are more likely to experience long-term neck pain and limited range of motion along with any combination of other less common symptoms.
The prognosis is even worse in an older individual or in someone who has had whiplash before or has existing neck or back problems.
Whiplash injuries can have severe long-term consequences and must be taken seriously. If you have been hurt in a car accident, getting an immediate medical check-up is the first step towards a more successful recovery.