Whiplash is a common injury that happens when your head is abruptly jerked in any direction. While symptoms may diminish within days or months, the underlying damage can remain permanent if left untreated.
The severity of symptoms is not necessarily a predictor of outcome. Proper evaluation and diagnosis is critical in order to assess underlying damage and to create a successful treatment protocol.
However, even patients with milder whiplash symptoms can sometimes experience chronic pain, fatigue, and stiffness. Whiplash is a complex injury, and the long-term prognosis is often difficult to predict. However, early diagnosis and treatment are essential for maximizing the chances of a full recovery.
Symptoms of Whiplash
The most common symptoms of whiplash may include:
- Pain in the neck
- Difficulty moving the neck
- Lower back pain
- Weakness or muscle spasms
- Shoulder pain
- Arm or hand pain
- Arm or hand numbness
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Difficulty swallowing
- Blurry vision
- Memory or focus problems
Some people don’t experience symptoms right away while others begin to experience symptoms at the time of initial injury.
You should meet with your doctor if you are concerned about the possibility of a whiplash injury. In your examination, your doctor will assess the degree of damage to your spine, muscles, and related soft tissues, including the possibility of a concussion which is a type of soft tissue injury. They may order an x-ray of your neck area to ensure no bone dislocation or fracture is present. However, an MRI or CT scan may be required to determine soft tissue damage.
Things To Monitor When You Have Whiplash
If you do have whiplash, here are some activities to be mindful of:
- Be careful when bending, lifting, or carrying repetitively, especially if twisting is involved.
- Be sure to take regular breaks from movement.
- Avoid heaving lifting, and pulling or punching movements.
- Avoid participating in contact sports like boxing, football, or rugby until you’ve been evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider such as a Chiropractic Physician.
- Get plenty of rest, because while you are resting your tissues are healing.
- If you have any questions or concerns, ask your healthcare provider.
Caring For Whiplash At Home
Your healthcare provider can provide guidance on caring for your whiplash injury at home.
Be sure to discuss these options with your doctor before attempting them at home.
- Apply heat or ice. During the first few days after a whiplash injury, ice packs can lessen swelling and pain in the neck. Cold packs help to close small blood vessels for a while, which prevents too much swelling. After that, alternate bags of heat or ice to ease the pain and promote healing.
- Medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen and NSAIDS like Motril, Advil, and Aleve can help reduce inflammation and pain. As always, read all the instructions on the package to ensure safe dosing.
- Downtime. Keeping active is a good thing, but getting rest for a little bit just after a whiplash injury is a great strategy. Give your neck time to heal, especially if certain activities or movements aggravate the pain. Limiting movement can give your neck time to heal. As your neck improves, gradually build up to your normal activities.
- Improve your posture. When you are sitting, walking, or standing, keep your back straight to help prevent pain and stiffness. If you work at your desk, take consistent breaks to get up and move around to ensure your neck doesn’t get stiff. You may want to add back support for your chair.
We want to note that unless a neck fracture is present, a neck brace is generally not used anymore because it can cause neck muscles to weaken resulting in longer treatment time for you.
Treating Whiplash Through Medical Care
Anyone who has been involved in an incident that could cause whiplash should be evaluated as soon as possible by a qualified medical provider such as a Chiropractic Physician or Medical Doctor who has extensive training in whiplash injuries.
- Chiropractic care. Manipulation of the spine or other joints should only be performed by a qualified medical professional; typically a Chiropractic Physician, DC (Chiropractor), or Doctor of Osteopathy, DO.
- Massage Therapy. Massage treatments are often combined with chiropractic care and physical therapy to reduce pain. Massage works in soothing spasms and muscle tension, increasing blood flow and helping the body heal more quickly.
- Physical therapy. A trained physical therapist can implement a treatment program to help improve the neck’s flexibility and strength, which may alleviate spine stress and lessen pain.
- Acupuncture. Benefits from acupuncture have been experienced in some patients. This treatment involves thin needles placed in certain key areas of the body according to what condition is being treated. The procedure is pain-free and safe when performed by a licensed acupuncturist.
Most individuals can make a full recovery with an appropriate treatment plan. Without an appropriate plan, individuals can continue to experience disability and pain. some people may also develop post-traumatic stress and depression symptoms.
If you’ve been in a car accident, you know how debilitating whiplash can be. While the healing process can be slow, there are things you can do to help speed up your recovery. One of the most important things is to maintain a positive attitude. Research has shown that people who believe they will recover from whiplash have a better chance of full recovery than those who feel pessimistic about their injury.
So even if you’re feeling frustrated, try to stay positive and focus on your progress. Your age and the severity of your initial injury will also affect how quickly you recover. So if you’re feeling discouraged, remember that healing takes time and everyone is different. A positive attitude and consistently following your recommended treatment plan will help you to get back to yourself in the quickest time possible.