The Facts About Whiplash
Whiplash is a type of neck injury caused by a strong, rapid, back-and-forth movement of the neck. Car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash. Although any type of car accident can cause whiplash, they are typically caused by rear end collisions. Whiplash can also be caused by playing contact sports, falling, or physical assaults. In babies, whiplash can be a sign of shaken baby syndrome.
Symptoms of whiplash include neck pain and stiffness that gets worse when trying to move your neck, headaches that typically start at the base of the skull, a reduced range of motion of the neck, dizziness, fatigue, and numbness in the arms. Some people also experience ringing in the ears, blurred vision, problems concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and memory problems. Sometimes symptoms show immediately, other times they don’t start to show until several hours or even days after the accident, but symptoms typically begin to show within the first 24 hours after an accident.
Whiplash can easily range in severity. In milder cases, it results in minor soft tissue tears or muscle strain and the pain will begin to fade within a few days. More severe cases can fracture vertebrae or cause ligaments to rupture and can take longer to recover from. Get medical attention right away if you’re in an accident and start experiencing neck pain or any of the other symptoms of whiplash to make sure you can start getting treatment as soon as possible. Do not hesitate to see a doctor if you’re experiencing dizziness, confusion, nausea, or lose consciousness, which could be signs of a concussion.
Treatment for whiplash depends on the severity of the case. Rest, applying ice or heat to the neck for 15 minutes at a time 6 times per day, and over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be helpful in alleviating pain. If you are taking any other medication, check with your doctor before taking over-the-counter pain relievers to avoid any potential interactions. If your pain is more severe, your doctor may prescribe pain medication or muscle relaxers. Your doctor might also recommend gentle stretching exercises to help restore movement and improve muscle strength, which could also help prevent neck strain in the future.
Although whiplash is a difficult injury to prevent, having the headrest in your car adjusted properly can be very helpful. Headrests aren’t just for comfort, they can prevent the neck from hyperextending in the event of an accident. A properly adjusted headrest should be even with the top of a person’s head. It’s okay if the headrest is higher than the top of a person’s head; this will still provide protection. If you’re tall enough that the headrest doesn’t become even with your head even at its highest setting, leave it at its highest setting. The ideal distance between a headrest and the back of a person’s head should be 4 inches or less. If your car doesn’t have a way to adjust a headrest’s position horizontally, you can also minimize this distance by adjusting the seat’s incline.