Whiplash is a common but often misunderstood injury. Whiplash used to be stigmatized and associated with phony lawsuits. Now it is recognized as a legitimate injury that can cause short and long-term discomfort. Here’s what you need to know about your neck pain and how to treat it.
How Do I Know if I Have Whiplash?
Whiplash is not the only condition that can cause pain in the neck and shoulders. The bones of your spine have fluid-filled structures called discs that sit between them. Sometimes these discs become damaged and can cause pain. This can happen as a result of wear and tear over time or from an accident. Arthritis in the neck can also cause pain and stiffness.
It can be difficult to tell what is causing your neck pain based on symptoms alone. Both disc injury and whiplash can cause pain that goes down into the shoulders and arms. Some people who have been in an auto accident have both a whiplash injury and a damaged disc. The best way to know what type of injury is causing your pain is to see a healthcare provider. Xrays, MRI’s and physical examination can help to determine the cause of your neck pain.
Chiropractors are specially trained to identify conditions that don’t show up on x-ray or other scans. Sometimes a whiplash injury only affects the soft tissue. Your chiropractor can perform simple tests to uncover soft tissue and nerve damage.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash injuries are caused when your neck is rapidly thrown backward and then forward. This often happens in rear-end car collisions. It can also occur during a fall or as a result of other physical trauma. This type of violent back and forth movement overextends soft tissues within the neck and can cause multiple strains and sprains at once throughout the neck. In some cases, the cervical spine is also affected. Your spine has curves in it that help to stabilize it. If the curve of the spine in your neck is altered, your whiplash symptoms may be more severe and probably won’t subside without treatment.
Symptoms of whiplash include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Muscle spasms
- Pain or tingly sensation in the shoulders or down the arms
- Reduced range of motion.
Some people also experience sleep disturbances and depression. Whiplash symptoms need to be treated promptly to avoid long-term discomfort.
What to Expect from Whiplash Treatments
It is not uncommon for people to experience a delayed onset of whiplash symptoms after an accident. As soon as you begin to feel symptoms, you should see a health care provider. Treatment for whiplash is most effective when received early, but treatment can improve symptoms even years later. Here are some commonly used treatments for whiplash injuries:
Chiropractic Adjustment: Whiplash injuries can slightly straighten the natural curve of the cervical spine. This puts additional strain on soft tissues and can cause long-term symptoms. Chiropractic adjustments combined with at-home exercises can restore the spinal curvature. You may also have other misalignments in your spine caused by the same accident that gave you whiplash. Your chiropractor can make sure that your whole spine is in optimal alignment.
Spinal Decompression Therapy: If you have a damaged disc in your cervical spine in addition to your whiplash injury, your chiropractor might recommend spinal decompression therapy. This treatment gently stretches the spine, creating negative pressures that move discs back into place and increase blood flow to damaged areas.
K-Laser Therapy: Whiplash injuries cause soft tissue damage throughout the neck. K-laser therapy uses certain wavelengths of light that stimulate the body’s ability to heal by decreasing inflammation and increasing the flow of blood and nutrients to the area.
Massage: Stiffness and trigger points are often associated with whiplash. Massage can help relax muscles and improve the range of motion. Trigger points are areas of tender, tight tissue that can cause pain locally, and in deferred areas, they are a common side effect of muscle strains. Trigger points can be released using specific massage techniques.
How Long Will it Take Me to Heal?
Some mild whiplash injuries will heal up within a few weeks. Others can take longer. Most people who suffer a mild to moderate whiplash injury will make a full recovery. Severe injury, especially in someone who has had whiplash before or in older people, may require ongoing treatment.
It’s important to follow through with your prescribed treatment plan. Most chiropractors will want to see you more often at first (up to a few times per week), and will decrease the treatment frequency as you heal. Going to all your appointments and doing your prescribed exercises at home will significantly increase your chances of making a full recovery.
What Activities Should I Avoid?
After a whiplash injury, you will need to avoid activities that put a strain on your neck. Roller Coasters and other situations where your head could be jostled are off-limits until you completely heal. Some activities like looking down at your phone are always harmful to your neck, and after a whiplash injury, they can cause severe pain or headaches. Your chiropractor can help you improve your posture and develop neck and back-friendly habits that will benefit you during and after recovery.
Your chiropractor may also prescribe equipment like special pillows that will hold your neck in a healthy position while you sleep. Changes like these can greatly increase your comfort and prevent re-injury.
Our Chiropractors in Tennessee have extensive experience treating whiplash injuries and other conditions caused by accidents. Give us a call today to find out how we can help you get back to a pain-free life.