Are you dealing with whiplash?
The seven bones that make up the structure of your neck are stacked on top of each other, with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is relatively flexible, so and it relies on your muscles and ligaments for support. "Whiplash" describes a situation where these tissues are stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is stretched beyond its capacity.
Auto accidents are by far the leading cause of whiplash. Up to 83% of people involved in car accidents sustain some form of a whiplash injury. The extent of your injury can be measured and viewed through several factors. In a rear-end crash, patients who are hit from behind normally sustain the most serious injuries.
Being hit by a larger or heavier vehicle can also put you in grave danger. It is not necessary for your car to be visibly damaged in order for you to be injured. In actuality, the amount of damage to your vehicle has a very limited relationship to your injuries. Most modern cars have shock-absorbing bumpers that do their best to minimize damage to the vehicle but do not provide much protection to the occupants in low-speed collisions. Rear-end impacts of less than 5 MPH routinely give rise to significant symptoms.
Other factors that increase your chance of sustaining a whiplash injury include: improperly positioned head restraints, wet or icy roads, having your head rotated or extended at the time of impact, and being unaware of the impending collision.
Our muscle tissues become less elastic as we age, increasing our risk of injury. On average, females are more likely than males to be injured. People who have pre-existing arthritis are more likely to develop complaints.
Symptoms for Whiplash can begin immediately or have a delayed onset. Initially, you may notice some soreness in the front of your neck that will usually fade quickly. Whiplash is often associated with dull neck pain that becomes sharper as you turn your head. The pain is most commonly focused in the back of your neck but can spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades.
Tension headaches will regularly accompany neck injuries. Dizziness and TMJ problems are possible. Symptoms may also increase slowly over time. Rest can temporarily alleviate your symptoms, but it often leads to stiffness. Be sure to inform us 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 and highly elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to ongoing pain and even arthritis. Up to a year after a car accident, more than half of those injured will experience neck pain. Seeking treatment as soon as you are able is essential. If you are riding with others, it is quite possible that they suffered an injury as well. It would be in everyone's best interest to be examined as soon as possible.
Depending on how bad the damage of your injury is, you may need to be cautious about your activities and limit taxing and strenuous activity for a while, but you must understand that pain is a normal reaction to injury and that significantly limiting your activities of daily living may delay your recovery. As soon as your body allows, you can try to "act normally" and resume normal everyday activities.
You should also try to avoid wearing heavy or awkward headgear, like a hardhat or helmet, if possible. Cervical collars rarely help and should be avoided unless otherwise directed by a medical professional. You can try to use 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. Pressure relief from sports creams has been reported by some patients.