Whiplash is one of those conditions that can come on suddenly or lurk in the shadows a few days after an incident, then suddenly flare up. It can be difficult to define and pinpoint, but those who have it understand how real the pain is. The need for relief is immediate.
Whiplash can interrupt your regular daily life by its nagging, incessant discomfort. It can also make certain movements difficult, thus hindering your quality of life temporarily. Most whiplash clears up within a few months, but some people have reoccurring symptoms that can last for years, although this is the exception. Understanding the particulars about whiplash will help you know how to treat this painful condition and heal more promptly. Listed below are some of the more common questions asked about whiplash.
What Causes Whiplash?
We’re probably all familiar with the stories about whiplash occurring from a motor vehicle accident. This is probably the most common cause of getting a whiplash injury, but other situations can lead to it too. Whiplash is the result of the sudden jerking of your head forward then backward again. What makes it so traumatic is that in these situations, you aren’t expecting to be hit so you cannot brace yourself. Or sometimes you are hit at such a force that you cannot brace yourself. That means your head is thrown forward and backward fiercely without anything stopping it. Your neck and shoulders are involved with the action too as they whip forward with your head and then fall back. The sudden movement forward then backward resembles the motion a whip would make, hence the term whiplash. Because your neck, shoulders, and head are all involved, they will all suffer some of the pain.
Aside from a motor vehicle accident, there are other incidents that can lead to a whiplash injury. In fact, according to medical professionals, “any impact or blow that causes your head to jerk forward or backward can cause neck strain.” That means a fall or a blow to the body or head could result in whiplash as well. Some people suffer from a whiplash injury playing contact sports.
The Anatomy of a Whiplash Injury?
So, what exactly happens to your body internally when you get a whiplash injury? The neck consists of the cervical vertebrae, which contains seven vertebrae. During the incident that causes whiplash, your neck rocks forward and backward damaging the soft tissue and straining the neck and shoulder muscles. However, unless there is a fracture, the damage won’t show up on an MRI, CT scan, or x-ray. Your doctor will be able to diagnose it by ruling out more serious conditions and by taking note of your symptoms. The doctor will also give you a physical exam to determine your level of pain when you move your neck, head, and so on.
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
People who are involved in an incident that results in a whiplash injury may have a range of symptoms. The symptoms can occur immediately following the incident or could show up a few days later. Either way, it’s not a pleasant experience. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect if you have this condition:
Neck pain: This pain may be a continual ache or just a pain when you turn your head.
Neck stiffness: Your neck may feel tight and you may find it’s difficult to turn your head in any direction due to the stiffness.
Reduced range of motion in the neck: Because of the pain and stiffness, you may not be able to use your neck like before.
Shoulder pain: Pain radiates from the neck to the shoulder area.
Shoulder stiffness: This may make it difficult to move your arms freely.
Headaches: Often the headache pain is located in the back of the head near the base of the skull, but many people get headaches in the front of the head too.
Upper back pain or tenderness
Sensory issues: This is especially prevalent with pins and needles sensation
Arm pain or weakness
Mood changes including irritability
Trouble concentrating and focusing
Not everyone will get all these symptoms. In fact, some of these symptoms are not that common to get with whiplash but some people can experience these so we wanted to list them for you.
What is the Treatment for Whiplash?
Once your doctor has determined you have a whiplash injury, it’s important to take the appropriate steps to heal. While most people will heal in several weeks, you want to be as comfortable as possible while going through the process. Besides, if you don’t take the proper care of yourself, you could prolong the situation. If possible, try to take some time the first few days after an accident to rest. During this time follow these guidelines to help ease the pain:
Use ice for the first few days. Follow a regimen of applying ice to your neck for approximately 15 minutes 3-4 times a day.
Medication: You may need pain medication as well as a muscle relaxer, depending on how contracted your muscles are. If your pain is severe, a prescription may be necessary but rarely are narcotic pain medications used. Your physician will likely write you something for prescription strength non-steroid anti-inflammatory drug. Otherwise, you can take over the counter medicine such as Motrin or Ibuprofen. However, if you have stomach problems, you’ll need to consult with your physician first for the best course of action.
Moist heat is appropriate to use on your neck, shoulders, and/or back after the initial first few days of icing. You don’t want to apply heat to the site in the beginning days because you’ll aggravate the inflammation.
Braces and other wraps are helpful to provide added support for the neck and shoulder area. These products will give you extra stability so you aren’t adding undue movement and pressure to an already damaged area. Some people need the neck support but for others, it can actually weaken the muscles. It depends on the nature of your injury. A shoulder brace “will help increase circulation, promote healing, and relieve pain.”
How Long Does Whiplash Last?
Every case is different and how long your whiplash lasts depends on the severity of your situation and other factors. Some people with a mild case find that their whiplash clears up in a few days, more people have symptoms for several months. However, according to the documented reports of whiplash between 12 and 50 percent of people still complain of neck pain after a year. The sooner you treat the condition, the quicker you will heal.
Can I Continue With Daily Activities With Whiplash?
While you can’t cease from all activities and we know that if you don’t use your muscles they can weaken from lack of use, you don’t want to overdo things. According to the medical professionals, you should gradually ease into your regular activities. You’ll know you’re ready once you can safely do the following:
Look over both shoulders without pain or stiffness
Rock your head all the way forward and all the way back without pain or stiffness
Rock your head from side to side without pain or stiffness (Source: WebMD)
That means if you are feeling any kind of pain doing those activities, then you won’t want to be doing strenuous work like lifting, stretching, cleaning, and so on. Using a supportive brace during your daily activities should help you mend more speedily.
Is There Anything I Can do to Help Heal Whiplash?
No one likes being incapacitated or struggling to do the things they love. We all want to heal quickly. So, are there things you can do to speed up the process? Besides following the prescribed remedies for easing the initial pain and inflammation, you can do some gentle exercises. However, it’s always a good idea to consult with your physician first. Once you get the doctor’s approval, here are some exercises you can try:
Gently rotate your neck in all directions. Be mindful if you feel pain though and stop at the first sign of it.
Tilt your head back and forth towards your shoulder.
Fold your neck forward toward your chest area.
Lift your shoulders up, then push backward in a rolling motion. Repeat this motion.
Getting back to normal after a whiplash injury may take a bit of time, but a speedy healing is possible. Follow the recommended guidelines and wear protective gear. At Mueller Sports Medicine, we are committed to helping people with any injury they may incur. Whether you are suffering from mild or severe whiplash injury, we are here to help you get on the road to recovery. We offer a line of products designed to support your muscles, joints, and tendons where they need support. Check out our extensive catalog of items for your product today. If you are in need of further assistance, connect with us and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.