Whiplash is a common and very painful injury that is often suffered in rear-end collisions and other car accidents. At least 3 million whiplash injuries are reported each year, and approximately 20 percent of rear-end collision victims suffer neck injuries.
In general, whiplash occurs when tissues in the neck are damaged after being “whipped” backwards and forwards by a sudden change in motion. For example, a driver is sitting in a stopped car (in traffic, at a light or at a stop sign), when an inattentive driver crashes into the stopped car from behind. The victim’s head is jerked forward and then backward by the force of the collision.
Whiplash leaves the victim in pain and with limited motion, with strains to the ligaments, discs, bones, muscles and nerves in the neck.
You may have whiplash if after surviving such a car accident you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Neck pain or stiffness.
- Loss of range of motion in the neck.
- Tenderness or pain in the neck, shoulder and arm areas.
- Dizziness or blurred vision.
- Fatigue, memory problems or lack of concentration.
Any or several of these symptoms may appear soon after the accident, but may not be evident until several days after the collision. Be alert to the symptoms of whiplash for several weeks after a car accident.
Treatment and Recovery for Whiplash Victims
It is not a good idea to assume that you can resolve the injury without medical help. See a doctor as neck and back injuries can be very serious.
Ensure that you inform your medical provider that you were in a car accident. The doctor will perform a physical exam, as it will be important to test the range of motion in your neck and shoulder muscles. He or she may ask you about the level of pain you are experiencing, any drugs you are currently taking, any pre-existing conditions and how long ago the accident occurred. You may also need X-rays, a CT scan or an MRI to determine the severity of the injuries.
Depending on the outcome of the tests, your doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers, muscle relaxants, a foam collar and physical therapy. In any case, practicing muscle relaxation and good posture can help speed your recovery.
It is important to treat whiplash as soon as possible in order to avoid long-term pain. Even if properly treated, it can require months or even years to fully recover in many cases. More serious cases could lead to symptoms that last longer.
If your symptoms persist, there are several treatments that have been effective. Many victims, in addition to their doctors’ standard treatments, benefit from acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy and electronic nerve stimulation.