Whiplash is usually caused by a fast and sudden movement of the head and neck. It need only last a second for this application of pressure to strain or tear ligaments and tendons. This movement can be sideways, upwards or downwards and still result in injury. While there are many possible causes for whiplash injuries they are usually quite simple to diagnose. Most of the time they will heal themselves and there are plenty of additional resources and techniques that can help to speed up the process. Yet it is important to address whiplash injuries with care as some kinds of physiotherapy and stretching can actually worsen the inflammation.
While neck tissue may feel soft to the touch, our tendons are made of far tougher stuff. Their job is to connect bones with muscles and can usually take a great deal of pressure before becoming damaged. However, as whiplash is generally caused by immediate and unanticipated pressure, they are often caught ‘unawares’ and lacking the tension that would be ready to absorb an expected impact. The most common symptoms of a whiplash injury include:
Unlike many other back/spine/neck injuries it can take a while – often between 8-12 hours – for the extent of whiplash to become clear. It is not uncommon for someone to suffer an impact that causes this injury to feel absolutely fine for several hours afterward, which is why it is important to take immediate precautions right away. It is also worth noting that whiplash tends to get worse over the following week or so.
Sometimes whiplash can result in other symptoms that are very similar to a concussion. Dizziness, short term memory loss, acute sensitivity throughout the limbs, loss of concentration, confusion and mood changes/irritability are all tell-tale signs that someone may have suffered this injury.
As mentioned above there are many potential causes of whiplash – basically anything that results in straining the neck tendons. It is perhaps most commonly associated with car accidents and contact sports (especially boxing, football, and hockey) but these account for only a small fraction of diagnoses.
People are far more likely to suffer whiplash related damage by slipping/falling over in a way that results in the neck either being severely strained or making hard contact with a solid surface. Anything from tripping over (forwards or backwards), diving into a pool using a poor technique, having an item fall onto your head, serve as similar examples of how this injury can be inflicted. What is important to understand is that even the most subtle of impacts can be enough to cause whiplash, and the extent of the actual injury does not always correlate to the extent of pain suffered. A slight fall can cause severe long lasting pain.
Whiplash is generally quite simple to diagnose. Most of the time an explanation of the context of the injury and a description of the symptoms will be enough to draw a straightforward conclusion, although expect the medical team or a medical doctor to perform a few physical inspections for muscle spasms and general tenderness. It is unusual that any other scans will be conducted unless there is a chance that the injury may be more severe. If there is a suspicion that it could be a possible severe vertebrae issue then further scanning may be required. This can all be decided and discussed after consulting with your physiotherapist.
Unlike more serious head injuries, the best way to treat whiplash is by encouraging neck movement. It is very unusual for neck braces to be used as these cause the tendons to tighten and take longer to heal. The early stages of recovering from this kind of ailment are the least comfortable, as your physical therapist will most likely ask you to keep moving even though the pain may still be increasing. Yet the fact remains that keeping the neck mobile and active will reduce tightness faster and considerably speed up recovery.
In regards to medication, consult with your medical doctor before you take harmful drugs that might end up causing more damage to your body. Especially if the pain is severe, consult a medical doctor before taking stronger painkillers. The key to recovering quickly from whiplash is to use some aspects of physiotherapy under the direction of their medical advice. They may show you what kinds of stretches and general light exercise will be the most effective. It is best to consult with a medical doctor or physical therapist first as they will be able to explore the best options to address the specific parts of your neck that are most affected by the pain.
It can be very difficult to estimate how long it may take to fully recover from whiplash. On rare occasions – those where the pain is still felt after six months – it may be classified as ‘chronic’ whiplash and require a long term approach incorporating plenty of physiotherapy and complementary treatments. Yet most of the time the pain will be tolerable within a couple of weeks and fully disappear within a month or two at most.
Something worth remembering about whiplash injuries is that they can be tough to get through. It is common for people working in active and high-stress occupations to need to take a prolonged leave of absence. While light exercise will considerably help recovery, it is best to avoid anything strenuous even for a short while after the symptoms have vanished. Do be aware that such sudden changes to routine can cause depression and anxiety, but that the physical pain will eventually heal up over time.
Whiplash can have lasting effects even years later. Don’t wait any longer, if the pain is still there, then your body is telling you something is wrong. Get it checked out today!