Whiplash is a relatively common injury – probably a lot more common than you think. About 2 million people seek medical care for whiplash injuries every year in the U.S., with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. And many more people may miss out on the care they need simply because they don’t understand what causes whiplash or they don’t know how to recognize the symptoms.
For instance, when most people hear the term “whiplash,” they think of injuries following car accidents. While it’s true whiplash is a common injury after many types of auto accidents (even seemingly minor “fender benders”), sports injuries, falls and some types of physical abuse (like being punched or violently shaken) can also cause whiplash. In short, any injury that causes your head and neck to snap back and forth rapidly (like the crack of a whip). And you don’t need a direct impact to your head to have whiplash either.
If you have whiplash and you don’t get appropriate treatment, you could wind up dealing with those symptoms for months, or even years. Knowing what symptoms to look for is one of the best ways to make sure you get the right care as quickly as possible.
Whiplash injuries: Causes
Whiplash involves an injury to your neck, and that could include injuries to the bones, spinal discs, ligaments, tendons or nerves. Your neck is one of the most vulnerable parts of your spine. Unlike the rest of your back, the neck is narrow and very flexible, which also makes it much more prone to specific types of injuries, including injuries from impact-related accidents.
When your head snaps back and forth rapidly, the force on your neck also rapidly changes. That rapid change in force can stretch or even tear ligaments and tendons, force discs out of their normal positions between your vertebrae or tear tiny nerves around your neck and shoulders. In addition, the violent movement often causes inflammation in the neck area, which in turn can cause both soreness and nerve compression.
Symptoms of whiplash
Whiplash symptoms can vary (often significantly) from one person to another and from one accident to another. Plus, there are lots of symptoms associated with whiplash injuries, so determining if you’ve got whiplash or not can be tricky. Some of the most common symptoms to watch out for include:
- Pain or stiffness (or both) in the neck.
- Difficulty moving the neck.
- Worsening pain with neck movement.
- Headaches, often beginning at the base of your skull.
- Tingling in your arms, hands or upper back area.
- Pain or tenderness in your upper back, neck, shoulders or arms.
- Problems focusing or concentrating.
- Blurry vision.
- “Ringing” in the ears.
Whiplash symptoms usually develop within the 24 hours following an accident, but sometimes they can be delayed, especially if they’re caused by increasing inflammation in the area. People who are older, who’ve had prior neck or back injuries or who’ve had whiplash in the past are more likely to develop symptoms. Often, people will write off symptoms as “normal aches and pains” associated with the accident, delaying care that could not only relieve the symptoms, but also prevent the injury from becoming worse.
Proper care is critical
If you have whiplash, it’s very important to schedule an appointment at Watson Chiropractic as quickly as possible to prevent more serious problems from developing. Without medical care, you’re far more likely to continue to experience chronic pain and other symptoms, sometimes for months or more. Depending on your symptoms, your care might include spinal adjustments, therapeutic exercise, gentle traction or other approaches to relieve inflammation and pain and help your body heal. Your specific care regimen will be customized for your individual needs.
Of course, because whiplash symptoms can be subtle, it’s not a good idea to diagnose it on your own. At Watson Chiropractic, we use special techniques to identify whiplash symptoms so treatment can be provided as early as possible. If you’ve been in any type of accident, you owe it to yourself and your health to schedule an evaluation as soon as possible. Book an appointment online today.