If you know someone who has suffered whiplash, then chances are they were involved in some severe accident or ordeal. Whiplash is one of the most grievous injurious someone can endure. It may not have the dramatically visible trauma of a laceration or the immediately debilitating effect of a broken bone. But whiplash can have more subtle effects on your body and health, and if unchecked, the pain can follow you for your entire life. Despite being a relatively well-known injury, there are a lot of people who are less clear on what whiplash exactly is or how you can sustain it. Read on for a brief overview of what you should know about this phenomenon:
What Exactly is Whiplash?
The American Chiropractic Society has defined whiplash as hyperextension of the neck. This means that the muscles in the neck have been suddenly pushed or pulled beyond their normal range of motion. This will often happen when your body is traveling or in motion in one direction and comes to a sudden, possibly violent stop. Your body stops moving, but your head is flung in the direction you were going. Your head will naturally go only as far as your neck will allow, then will be yanked back in the opposing direction. Your neck and spine have a natural capacity to absorb shock that you encounter in your everyday life, and your body will instinctively try to counteract the strain being placed on it. But at a certain threshold of force, it becomes simply unnatural for the human body to keep up.
The spine and neck are complex networks of nerves, muscle, and bone. The vertebrae in your back are aligned in a particular way, and in between each vertebra is a jelly-like disc that is meant to keep the bones from rubbing and chafing against each other, as well as absorb a moderate amount of shock during times of trauma. When you sustain whiplash, your neck and spine are unnaturally stretched, which can cause sprains due to the excessive force being placed on them. The surrounding muscles and ligaments are similarly stretched and may sprain or tear. If the discs in your spine sustain too much impact, they may herniate and slip out of place. In extreme circumstances, the discs can completely rupture, which can lead to severe neck and back pain.
Where or how does Whiplash occur?
One of the occurrences most commonly associated with whiplash is a car accident. If you are traveling in a particular direction and another vehicle or obstacle suddenly stops or alters that trajectory, this can force tons of pressure onto your body in an instant. And since seat belts do not typically hold your neck stationary, upon impact a lot of that force will fling your head in the direction you were going before it snaps back the opposite way. With the weight and speed of modern vehicles, even seemingly less serious fender benders can place incredible strain on your neck. If you are ever in a car accident, whiplash should be one of the top things to check for.
Whiplash is so often linked to car accidents, this has caused some to think that it cannot be suffered anywhere else. Unfortunately, whiplash can occur in various situations:
-Sports: contact sports like football, rugby, and martial arts can clearly produce high impact tackles and collisions. But whiplash can also be suffered from the high speeds experienced in skiing, cycling, diving, and even horseback riding.
-Incidental slip or tripping: while it may seem mundane compared to a car accident, slipping and tripping around the home or office can still produce serious injury including whiplash. Just the act of missing that last step on the stairs can have unexpectedly painful results on your neck.
-Theme parks: some people derive thrills and satisfaction from experiencing roller coasters and other intricate rides at a theme park or carnival. But as many of these rides are characterized by high speeds and exciting twists and turns, in some cases whiplash may occur.
How can Whiplash impact my life?
One of the most dangerous traits of whiplash is that its symptoms are often not immediately apparent. Sometimes someone involved in a collision or accident will feel shaken, but well enough that they think they can just “walk it off.” However, as adrenaline dies down and the muscles and nerves start to resettle, the symptoms can emerge and intensify. Symptoms can take moments, hours, and sometimes even days to manifest.
When you start to feel whiplash, because it is a neck/spinal injury, it can bring on a myriad of alarming indicators, including but not necessarily limited to:
-Sudden onset headaches
-Pain or numbness down the arms and to the hands
-Pain and reduced mobility in the neck
-Pain between the shoulder blades
-Problems concentrating or sleeping
-Lower back pain
Whiplash can be problematic to diagnose. There tends to be a wide range of variance in how it affects each person, and if it’s severe enough to produce scar tissue under the skin, then medical imaging may not catch it. And as time goes on the symptoms mentioned above can occur in any order or intensity.
What can be done about Whiplash?
Optimally, whiplash can be recovered from in 6 to 8 weeks but because it can be difficult to precisely diagnose some people take considerably longer. If the whiplash is mild, some can simply treat it with rest, ice, and basic over-the-counter medication. In more severe cases, a medical professional may need to be consulted in order to prescribe more potent painkillers or muscle relaxants. One other important consideration would be to consult a chiropractor.
Chiropractors are specially trained to diagnose and administer relief through direct, manipulative treatment of the joints, particularly those related to the spinal column. Their specialized knowledge may be invaluable in determining a course of treatment or any additional physical therapy you may need to get fully right.
If you feel you may have sustained whiplash, you should not hesitate to seek medical attention. Leaving whiplash alone or hoping you eventually walk it off leaves you open to considerable risk of having the pain continuously build possibly for the rest of your life. Consult a medical professional as soon as possible to get the guidance and treatment you need to set you on the path to recovery.