There are literally hundreds of thousands of automobile accidents across the country every year and many of those result in injuries to those involved. If you are injured in an automobile accident it is something you need to take very seriously and monitor closely if you are not already receiving medical attention for your injuries. Even if you don’t feel like you have been hurt you need to be aware that sometimes injuries received in crashes take a few days to show up because of the nature of them. One of those injuries is whiplash; it is not uncommon for a whiplash injury to not show up until several days or weeks after the accident happened. So never assume automatically you have not been injured in an auto crash just because you don’t have pain or other signs of an injury right away.
Whiplash is the most common neck injury that is associated with automobile accidents. It occurs when a sudden, sometimes violent movement of the head takes place forward and backward or side to side. When this sudden movement takes place it often damages the delicate muscles, ligaments and other soft tissue that help support the neck.
Even years after a whiplash injury takes place you may still experience health problems related to the original injury to your neck. Studies have shown that many people still suffer from whiplash injuries long after these same victims have settled their various insurance claims. It is an injury you have to be very careful with both in terms of whiplash injury recovery and when it comes to releasing an insurance companies responsibility for the medical payments to treat it.
History of Whiplash
The term ‘whiplash’ first came into use in 1928 and was often improperly defined at first as a hyperextension of the neck that is immediately followed by a hyperflexion of the neck that results in damage to the muscles, tendons and ligaments that support the head. After further study it was concluded that whiplash injuries occur more often because of a rapid extension and flexion of the head as opposed to hyperextension followed by hyperflexion.
There are few injuries that generate as much controversy among medical professionals as whiplash simply because of its complicated nature, the profound impact they can have on a person’s life and the sometimes slow onset of symptoms. Detecting the presence of whiplash is not like a simple x-ray that can determine if a person has a broken bone or not and then put into motion the standard practices to treat and heal the injury; this is because whiplash injuries can involve a combination of different muscle, joint and connective tissue damage and even result in the victim having problems with their central nervous system. This fact makes whiplash very hard to diagnose and even harder to make a plan of action to treat it.
How does Whiplash Occur?
The best way to understand the somewhat complicated nature of whiplash is take a closer look at how this type of injury occurs. When you are involved in an accident such as a rear end collision your body will go through a very intense and rapid acceleration and deceleration process; a lot of this movement will directly affect your neck. This intense and rapid acceleration and deceleration often takes place within just a fraction of a second. There are four phases that are associated with a whiplash injury and each one has different forces acting on your body that can cause such things as nerve, muscle, ligament, vertebra and disc damage to your spine or neck. Some of these injuries may be substantial to say the least.
Here are the four phases of whiplash:
– Phase 1
When your vehicle is impacted from the rear it actually causes your car to be pushed away from the underside of your body and the midsection of your back to be compressed up against your seat. When this takes place it places an upward force on your neck which in turn compresses your discs and joints. At the same time your neck is forced upward your body’s torso is sent forward and your head moves backwards which creates an additional shearing force on your neck.
– Phase 2
This is when your torso reaches peak acceleration which often becomes 1 ½ to 2 times greater than the speed your vehicle is traveling. At this point your head is still travelling rearward which forms an abnormal ‘s-curve’ in your neck as your seat then starts to recoil forward; much like a spring works this then adds to the forward acceleration of your torso. This results in the most violent shearing action on the neck during a whiplash accident and it’s one of the main causes of the most damaging aspects of this type of accident.
– Phase 3
In phase three of a whiplash accident your body is now going back down in your seat and at the same time your head and neck are still moving forward and reach their peak acceleration. While this body movement is taking place your car starts to slow down; this is usually magnified by the effect of pressing on your break which is somewhat automatic during this phase. This results in severe flexion injuries to your neck.
– Phase 4
Many crash experts feel this is the most damaging phase of a whiplash causing accident. This is because your body has become restrained by your seat belt at this time yet your head and neck are free to move forward without restriction. The resultant and often violent forward bending force on your neck can severely strain your muscles and ligaments, force vertebrae out of their normal location and tear the delicate fibers in your spinal discs. This action will also stretch your nerve roots and spinal cords and may even result in a brain injury.
Common Injuries which Result from a Whiplash Type Trauma
Here are some of the most common injuries that result from an accident that produces a whiplash type movement to your body:
– Neck pain
This is by far the biggest complaint from people that have suffered from whiplash trauma. This pain is present in over 90% of patients that have been diagnosed as having whiplash injuries. This pain usually radiates anywhere from the head down through the shoulder blades. Whiplash injuries typically impact all of the soft tissues in the neck including facet joints and discs in addition to also impacting the necks nerves, muscles and ligaments.
Injuries to a facet joint are one of the most common whiplash injuries that cause neck pain. This type of pain is usually felt in the back of the neck slightly right or left of center and it can make your neck very tender to the touch. It is one of the harder types of whiplash injuries to detect because it does not show up on MRI’s or x-rays and can only be diagnosed by physical examination of the painful area.
Disc injuries are also very common during automobile accidents and are very often accompanied by chronic pain. The outer wall of the discs in your neck are made up of several layers of fibers that can easily get torn in a whiplash producing accident. Once these discs are torn it can lead to herniation or degeneration of the disc and can significantly irritate the nerves passing through this area. This irritation usually leads to radiating pain in the upper back, shoulders and arms and may also lead to muscle weakness in these same areas.
The pain that is felt in the first few weeks after suffering a whiplash injury is usually the result of having torn ligaments and muscles. This type of whiplash injury will often limit range of motion and make you stiff in the injured areas. Once the muscles start to heal there usually is no pain associated with them. Ligament damage is a bit more complicated and may result in abnormal movement and periods of instability.
Almost as prevalent as neck pain after suffering a whiplash is suffering from headaches. Over 80% of patients diagnosed with whiplash trauma reporting experiencing headaches of varying intensities and durations. Brain injuries can account for some of these headaches but most will occur as the result of injuries to facet joints, muscles and ligaments in the neck which are all known to refer pain to the head. This simple fact is why it’s so important to treat your necks support structure after suffering from a whiplash injury.
– TMJ problems
One injury that is less common than others when it pertains to whiplash is what is known as TMJ (temporomandibular joint dysfunction). But for those who do end up suffering from it as a result of whiplash it can be very debilitating to say the least. This problem is usually accompanied by what patients describe as a clicking or popping sound when they move their jaw. If TMJ gets worse it can lead to facial pain, ear pain, headaches and sometimes a person will have difficulty eating. Chiropractors are especially efficient when it comes to handling TMJ related symptoms.
– Brain injury
Whiplash results in brain injuries a lot more often than people realize. The brain sometimes will bounce off the skull during the force of whiplash movements and this can cause bruising or bleeding on the brain itself. There may even be a loss of consciousness during the trauma. Brain injuries can cause a widely varied set of consequences such as irritability, forgetfulness, and can even impact your sense of smell, taste and vision.
It is not unusual for a person to feel dizzy after suffering a whiplash in an automobile accident. Dizziness most of occurs from either an injury to your brain or from an injury to a facet joint. Dizziness is temporary in most cases and patients that experience it after suffering from whiplash trauma tend to respond well to chiropractic manipulation as a means of relief.
– Low back pain
The type of accident that causes whiplash often times will affect the lower back too. Most people think of only the neck being affected by whiplash trauma but many times a person will have episodes of back pain also. This is due to the back having a tremendous amount of compression placed upon it during a whiplash producing collision.
Almost 80% of those who suffer from a whiplash injury heal in 6 to 9 months but that still leaves over 20% of whiplash trauma sufferers with problems that may continue to plague them for many years to come. Some will even suffer from some of their whiplash injury symptoms for the rest of their lives. This highlights the need for properly managed whiplash recovery. Chiropractic and other wellness care can play a very big role in this healing process.
– Chiropractic Care
This is what is termed manual manipulation of the spine. It is essential to restoring normal movement to your spine and the repositioning spinal structure parts such as your vertebrae. It is one of the most widely used methods that patients undergo to minimize the long term effects of whiplash type injuries. It is often used very effectively in combination with other whiplash recovery methods.
– Soft Tissue Therapy
Ligaments, nerves, muscles, tendons, internal organs and the discs in your spine all make up what are known as soft tissues in your body; basically anything besides your bones would be considered soft tissue. Soft tissues need to be stimulated during whiplash recovery in order to minimize whiplash pain and also to help minimize the long term effects to the damaged soft tissue. This is done through such means as physical therapy, massage therapy and trigger point injections.
– Home Care
What you do on your own is a big part of your whiplash recovery too. You need to listen to your doctor’s advice on physical activity limits, stretch and exercise as directed and eliminate as much stress from your life as possible to speed your healing.
– Medical Intervention
Most all whiplash sufferers will get some routine medical treatment such as being prescribed muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory drugs or get trigger point injections. In more severe cases this medical treatment for whiplash may include such things as surgery and epidural spinal injections.