Causes and Treatments of Whiplash
Every day there are thousands of car and truck accidents, and many injured people are taken to the hospital for treatment. We hear about broken bones, damaged organs, and terminal injuries, but we don’t often hear about the less life-threatening and less visible injuries that can affect people more in the long term.
One of the main injuries in this category is whiplash. While the injury and symptoms can range from mild to severe, it is important to know about whiplash to be able to identify it and prevent it when possible.
What Is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a neck strain caused by the head being forced backward, then immediately forward, very quickly. This injures the muscles and tendons in the neck. The common symptoms of whiplash are tightness in the neck, resulting in limited range of motion, pain, and tenderness.
Also, because of the neck being weakened, headaches that begin at the base of the skull are also common. The symptoms may begin immediately after injury, or they may take up to a few days to become apparent. It is important to stay alert for new pains and other discomfort during this time after an accident.
There are also other conditions, such as concussion, that can accompany whiplash, so it is important to seek medical attention should any new symptoms arise.
What Causes Whiplash?
The most common way to get whiplash is from a car accident. If the victim is hit from behind, this, quickly but briefly, pushes the car forward, making the head jerk backward, then the headrest pushes the head quickly and abruptly forward, which is exactly the motion that causes whiplash.
Whiplash can also be caused by other activities that cause a similar abrupt motion in the head and neck. A few examples of this are roller coasters, sports, such as football, and bungee jumping. While there are many precautions taken in these activities, the risk of whiplash is always possible, so caution should be taken, especially if the neck is already weakened.
Preventing Neck Injuries
As was alluded to earlier, the best way to prevent whiplash is to abstain from activities that can cause it, especially if there is a high risk. However, this is not always possible, especially when referring to riding in a vehicle. Since most people cannot avoid riding in a vehicle, here are some ways to minimize the risk of whiplash in case of a crash.
The headrest needs to be positioned directly behind the head. If it is positioned too high or too low, this can cause the jerk to the head and neck to be more exaggerated. If the head and neck cannot move as much during a crash, the injury will be less severe because there will be less strain on the neck muscles and tendons.
Airbags need to also be in good working order. These prevent, as much as possible, the whole body from moving during a crash. As you probably guessed, wearing a seatbelt properly is essential to preventing whiplash.
This means both the lap (waist) strap and the diagonal or sash (shoulder) strap need to be in place. This keeps the body in the right place in the seat for the design of the headrest and airbags to work most efficiently and prevent or lessen injury as much as possible.
Treatment For Whiplash
Although one may take all precautions possible, no injury can be guaranteed to be prevented. Whiplash may still occur and it could be serious. Fortunately, there are treatments available to make a speedy, full recovery more likely.
The first and most likely treatments are pain relievers and muscle relaxers. Some doctors also recommend applying ice intermittently to the neck. These can relieve uncomfortable symptoms and speed healing. If the injury is more severe, a neck brace may be prescribed to be worn for the first couple days to stabilize neck and head movement while the muscles and tendons in the neck are healing. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to ensure that full range of motion is restored as healing takes place.
Alternative medicine is often used to relieve symptoms and assist with healing. This includes chiropractic care, acupuncture, massage, and electronic nerve stimulation. This kind of treatment often has fewer known side effects than traditional medical treatment, and can effectively relieve pain and assist healing.
However, many patients and insurance companies prefer traditional medicine. It is likely that using a combination of both traditional and alternative forms of treatment would result in the fastest and most complete recovery, but alternative treatments should always be well-researched and thoroughly discussed with a physician.
Prognosis For Whiplash Injury After a Car Accident
The prognosis of patients with a whiplash injury is uncertain and depends on many factors. Some of these factors are the severity of the injury, age of the patient, physical condition of the patient, and gender. Of course, more serious injuries will take longer to heal. Elderly patients tend to be more easily injured and heal more slowly, and females tend to take longer to heal from whiplash.
Some patients can take over six months to heal completely, and, in some severe cases, it could take years. The good news is that most people completely recover within three months.
If the injury is not severe, and the patient is in good physical condition without complications, the patient should completely recover in a short time with proper treatment.
Whiplash is very treatable and the prognosis is generally positive, but it is not an injury to be ignored. Medical treatment is often necessary to make a full recovery. Prevention measures can be taken to decrease the likelihood of being injured.
The best action to take is to avoid activities that may cause whiplash entirely, but this is not always possible. In the vehicle, wear seatbelts, adjust the headrest to the proper level, and be sure the airbags are in working order.
In other situations, be sure to fully research the proper safety procedures. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Full recovery is not guaranteed, so do everything you can to prevent whiplash injury and be safe.