Whiplash is commonly used to refer to the neck injury created by the sudden backward-to-forward force on the neck resulting from automotive-related collisions. Since the neck is forcefully “whipped” during the accident, soft tissues and ligaments in the area can become damaged. While some people may recover from mild whiplash in a few days or weeks, others may develop other chronic complications as a result of untreated whiplash injuries. These complications are sometimes referred to as WAD (whiplash associated disorders). Whiplash injuries are also referred to as neck strains, acceleration flexion-extension neck injury, or soft tissue cervical hyperextension injury.
Untreated whiplash injuries may result in chronic pain and stiffness of the neck and shoulders. Since the neck is a part of the spine, reflexes and sensations in other parts of the body may also be affected in serious cases. Broken or fractured neck bones, herniated spinal disc, or injuries to the neck ligament, tendons and tissues can also worsen if they are not treated promptly. Hence, it is best to see a doctor after a car accident even if you do not think you have whiplash.
Sometimes, symptoms for a whiplash will not occur until days after the car accident. Be sure to see a doctor promptly even if symptoms are not present, just to be safe. Some symptoms of whiplash may include:
- Pain, stiffness, or tenderness in the neck, shoulder, or arm (pain may spread from the neck down to the arms)
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulties in turning the head
- Altered physical reflexes of the neck, shoulder, and/or arm
- Numbness, tingling, or prickling of the arms
- Weakness in the arms
- Ringing of the ears
- Blurred vision
- Difficulties in concentration or remembering events
The guaranteed prevention method against whiplash injuries would be to not drive or be in a moving vehicle at all. However, if caution is taken while driving, whiplash can be easily preventable. Here are some tips to do so:
- Avoid “tailgating”– do not drive too close to the car in front.
- Keep a safe distance, at least two seconds, from the car in front.
- Do not practice “road rage” or drive too fast.
- Adjust head rests on car seats so it provides support if a whiplash were to happen. Be sure to readjust head rests when changing the seat level, so that it matches up.
- Do not lean forward or sit too close towards the steering wheel while driving.
- Exercise to strengthen neck and shoulder muscles.
- If a whiplash does happen, try to stiffen the neck to minimize the “whipping” movement of the head.
Treatment and Care
Research has shown that the most effective treatment for whiplash is a combination of several different treatments at once, known as a multimodal approach. The general prognosis for whiplash is good, if immediately taken care of. Depending on the severity of the whiplash, your doctor may give several treatment options:
Drugs and Injection
The discomfort and pain from the whiplash can be controlled by over-the-counter pain relievers. However, individuals with severe pain may receive prescription strength painkillers. Otherwise, muscle relaxants can also be given to help eliminate post-accident stiffness and tightness. However, relaxants can cause drowsiness. Corticosteroid injections may also be administered for severe pain problems associated with whiplash.
Upon the instructions of your doctor, exercises to stretch and strengthen neck muscles can help reduce symptoms and protect the neck against future injuries. In fact, exercising and proper physical therapy has been shown to be the most effective treatment method for individuals suffering from symptoms of whiplash. Usually, physical therapy is conducted by a licensed therapist, and must be done according to direction to minimize further injury to the neck and spine.
Your doctor may choose to combine alternative medicine with other methods of therapy to speed up whiplash recovery. Massages can be an effective tool to help relax muscle spasms associated with whiplash injuries. Research has shown that seeing a chiropractor for spinal manipulations may be just as effective as physical therapy. However, be sure to see a licensed chiropractor for the best quality care, as incorrect manipulations to the neck and spine can cause life threatening injuries and exacerbate the current situation. Acupuncture, which involves sticking very fine needles in mapped pressure points on the skin, may also help relieve pain and inflammation. Electrical nerve stimulation therapies may be utilized to decrease pain levels. In this therapy, electric currents are sent through the skin to either disrupt nerve signals that transmit pain, or stimulate nerves that release feel-good endorphins.
Tips for Home Remedy
For mild cases of whiplash, the doctor may have you simply employ some home remedies to help with speedy recovery. An ice pack would be helpful immediate after experiencing a whiplash to reduce inflammation, while a heat pack can relieve muscle stiffness and tightness. Over-the-counter pain relievers can also be used to relieve discomfort and inflammation.