Have you been involved in a car accident, and the impact caused a neck injury? This is most probably whiplash, and regardless of how painful or frustrating it might be, it is a treatable condition.
Whiplash or whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) is, more often than not, caused by a sudden, forceful back-and-neck movement of the neck, which typically manifests during a car accident. This kind of injury is quite common among victims of road accidents and, surprisingly or not, is one of the mildest. Vehicle crashes can lead to a number of injuries, some more severe than others, such as concussions, lacerations, burns, spinal cord injuries, broken bones, whiplash, post-traumatic stress disorder, and in the worst cases, internal bleeding and amputations. If you have got just a neck strain, you are kind of lucky.
Nonetheless, let us find out more about this condition, which can keep you from living a normal life for a while, and what is to be done to make your recovery smoother.
What is whiplash?
Whiplash or neck sprain occurs when the head suddenly and forcefully moves forward, backwards, or sideways during an impactful accident. Most people associate this condition with a car accident, which is indeed one of the most common situations where the injury happens, but there are also other ways in which whiplash can be sustained, such as horse-riding accidents, contact sports, falling off a bike, amusement park rides, or physical abuse.
This condition feels so painful because your neck’s soft tissues (the ligaments and muscles) extend beyond their regular motion range. Overstretched tendons, thus, lead to various symptoms, which, nevertheless, may not appear immediately after the accident.
How does it feel?
As previously mentioned, whiplash symptoms may be delayed, usually for 24 hours after the impact. In most cases, these symptoms appear gradually and become more severe with each day passing. This is what you may feel if you suffer from whiplash:
- constant tiredness
- blurred vision
- neck pain and stiffness
- pain in the shoulder or between the shoulder blades
- sleep disturbances
- muscle spasms
Less common symptoms of this condition may involve:
- ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- difficulty focusing or remembering
- low back pain
- vertigo – a sensation that you are spinning or moving
How is whiplash diagnosed?
If you have recently been involved in an accident that resulted in neck strain, you should immediately see a doctor. Whiplash might be a common injury of the neck, but this does not mean it can be left untreated. So, ensure you visit a doctor for further investigation and help them put the diagnosis. Your physician will ask questions about the incident’s circumstances, where you feel pain, and whether the pain is sharp, shooting, or dull. Any additional information would help to put an accurate diagnosis.
More often than not, an interrogation is not enough; hence, the doctor will do a physical exam and ask you to perform some simple tasks to check your neck’s range of motion, neck/back/shoulder tenderness, or any reflex in your limbs. And if it is still unclear, your physician might order imagining tests, particularly if another injury (brain or spinal injury) is suspected:
- X-rays are the first your doctor will turn to. But if these cannot tell whether your neck pain is connected to a generative disease or another injury, specialised imaging tests are required
- CT (computerised tomography) scans – more detailed pictures of the soft and bone tissues are shown on the monitor
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans – the area in question is perfectly rendered on the monitor due to the strong magnetic field radio waves that characterise this type of examination
The treatment options for this condition can vary from a simple ice pack to numerous physical therapy sessions, depending on the injury’s severity. Your doctor decides which type of treatment you would follow based on the diagnosis. So, expect one (or more) of the likes:
There are several pain management options for whiplash. Some of the most common include OTC pain medications such as aspirin and acetaminophen (Tylenol) and pain relief medications such as naproxen (Naprosyn, Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Your doctor might also advise you to take muscle relaxants to soothe pain and loosen tight muscles. In some cases, these are not enough or perhaps not suitable, so you may also be given a shot of lidocaine or corticosteroid into the painful muscle areas to relieve muscle spasms.
If you face ongoing pain as a result of a car accident and it was proven that another driver’s negligence caused it, we advise you to claim compensation for your injury. This might not stop the pain, but it would help with the costs of medications or other prescribed treatment options.
A healthcare professional can also prescribe a series of movement and stretching exercises to gradually restore your neck’s range of motion and speed up recovery. Some common exercises involve:
- rolling your shoulders
- bending your neck toward your chest
- leaning your head side to side
- rotating your neck in both directions
Along with these exercises, you may also be recommended to work on your posture. A good upright posture can prevent your neck damage from becoming more severe. As for sleeping time, consider using a firm pillow that supports neck relaxation.
Physical therapy is one of the best treatment options for whiplash and also for a range of injuries that might result from an accident. That is because a physical therapist uses various methods to alleviate pain and loosen tight muscles. Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS) is considered one of the most successful in treating this kind of injuries, but ultrasound or ice/heat can also be used, depending on your needs.
Besides these aforementioned treatment options, there is also a range of alternative remedies you may be recommended to try:
- chiropractic care
The best recommendation to follow when suffering from whiplash is to see a doctor to receive a correct diagnosis and proceed with the treatment. It is also important to be patient – the condition can last anywhere from a week to a month. But it will not last forever!