Whiplash: Problems and Recovery
If you have been in a car accident or if you have been injured in contact sports, you may have experienced whiplash. Whiplash results from an impact that sends the head and neck backward and forward in a quick, forceful motion. The result can be neck pain and stiffness, along with shoulder and back pain. Soft tissue can also be affected – that’s the ligaments, tendons, and muscles that support the neck, along with the nerves in the spine.
When whiplash is diagnosed quickly and treated properly, the pain will often subside, and range of motion will be restored. However, in some situations, long-term and chronic problems may result from the injury. This is known as whiplash-associated disorder. The impact on the spine and the time it takes to heal can also be affected by age, history of spinal injuries, and complications of pre-existing spinal conditions.
Problems Caused by Whiplash
People who suffer from whiplash often experience common symptoms. However, because each person and each injury is unique, your symptoms may not be exactly like someone else’s.
Neck Pain from Whiplash
One of the most common symptoms of whiplash is neck pain. This pain can be caused by the cervical spine (neck bones) being out of alignment. The discs that hold the neck vertebrae together may also be injured, causing pain. The joints might also have been injured by whiplash.
Pain from Soft Tissue Strain
Pain can also come from stress, strain, or injury to the soft tissues. These tissues might have been injured directly by the whiplash impact. Or they might develop a lower-grade pain because they are trying to compensate from the problems with the spine. For example, when the cervical spine becomes out of alignment, the muscles, tendons, and ligaments strain to hold it in place. Often they are stretched when an injury like whiplash affects the curvature of the spine.
Nerve Pain from Whiplash
Nerves can also be hurt during whiplash, causing pain. The nerves themselves might be injured. Or the swelling around the injury might put pressure on the nerves. This can lead to numbness which can radiate down the arms, into the fingers, and up into the head. Where the spine is out of alignment, nerves can also be compressed, causing pain.
After a spinal injury like whiplash, it is important to determine exactly where the pain originates so the injury can be properly treated.
The symptoms of whiplash can also result from more severe injuries to the spine. It is important to get a diagnosis for whiplash to rule out other injuries such as broken bones or torn soft tissue or discs in the vertebrae.
Additional Symptoms of Whiplash
Because of direct injury, spinal misalignment, or soft tissue injuries, whiplash can cause numbness and tingling, dizziness, blurred vision, and ringing in the ears. Whiplash can also cause stiffness in the neck and limited range of motion. Pain can extend into the shoulders, arms, and lower back. Headaches are a common symptom of whiplash, and chronic migraines might be intensified. General fatigue and sleep disruption are also common results of whiplash.
Recovery from Whiplash
Whiplash should not be left untreated. The most effective recovery begins with immediate diagnosis and treatment. Therapies such as physical therapy, pain management, ice/heat, and posture strengthening can help relieve symptoms and promote healing. It takes time for soft tissue injuries to heal, so continued therapies and patience are needed. For more severe injuries, more intensive treatments may be necessary. That’s why a proper diagnosis for a whiplash-related injury is so important.