Whiplash is a generic term applied to an injury in which the neck is suddenly and violently jolted in one direction and then the other, creating a "whip-like" movement. Whiplash is most commonly due to motor vehicle accidents, but it can also occur from sports injuries, falls and other incidents. Whiplash most often involves forward and backward movement of the head and neck. Side-impact crashes or injuries, however, may result in side-to-side or oblique whiplash injuries. Although severe whiplash injuries can result in paralysis and even death, most whiplash injuries are relatively mild. It is common for symptoms caused by whiplash to not arise for hours, months, or even years later.
Common Signs and Symptoms
2 out of every 3 people involved in motor vehicle accidents develop whiplash symptoms. Obvious signs and symptoms often do not develop until 2 to 48 hours after the injury. If left untreated, resultant post-traumatic osteoarthritis, spinal degeneration, chronic stiffness, pain and other problems can develop over ensuing years. For that reason, it is important, whether obvious symptoms are present immediately or not, to be evaluated by your doctor of chiropractic as soon as possible after an auto accident or neck injury.
The most common symptoms of whiplash are pain and stiffness in the neck. Headache, especially at the base of the skull, is also a common symptom, seen in more than 2/3rds of whiplash patients. Pain, tingling, numbness, and stiffness can extend downward into the shoulders, arms, upper back, and even upper chest. Other possible symptoms include dizziness, difficulty swallowing, nausea, blurred vision, vertigo (the sensation of the room spinning), ringing in the ears, jaw pain, irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
The use of a soft-cervical collar remains controversial. Some suggest that cervical collars are inappropriate, acting as a "crutch" and encouraging patients to avoid activity. Others suggest that, with proper counseling, a collar can help a patient slowly return to normal activities. If worn, a cervical collar should not be used for more than on week in most cases.
Spinal adjustments provided by a chiropractor provides relief and improves healing. It is important that the patient stay active, within reason, unless serious injury has occurred that requires immobilization. In fact, your chiropractor, doctor or physical therapist will often prescribe an exercise or stretching program. Ice and pain free range of motion are the 2 best 'natural' ways to decrease inflammation and reduce pain.
Surgery, injections and other invasive options are rarely necessary, but are available. They are generally only for patients with more severe injuries. In most cases, conservative treatment should be attempted prior to surgical intervention.
In any case, the best treatment is always prevention. Always wear a seat belt, ensure that the headrest is adjusted to the appropriate height and look at vehicle safety ratings. When an accident does occur, take detailed notes and pictures, see your doctor and chiropractor, and contact your auto insurance provider, keeping in mind that your auto insurance may cover your health care costs.
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