Neck Injuries From Car Accidents – Whiplash is an injury that occurs when a sudden force or movement stresses your neck and spine, damaging bone, muscles, ligaments, and nerves. It is most common in motor vehicle crashes, but can happen for other reasons as well. It is usually treatable and short-lived. However, some people experience chronic effects such as pain for months or even years.
Taking precautions such as wearing seat belts and correct seat positions when driving or riding in a car, or using safe play practices and protective equipment when playing contact sports can reduce the risk of whiplash.
Neck Injuries From Car Accidents
Whiplash is a condition that occurs when sudden changes in movement force your neck (cervical spine) and upper spine to move in a way that causes injury. This causes a type of neck sprain.
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Whiplash refers to a single concept, but can have a wide variety of effects. Experts call the conditions caused by whiplash “whiplash-related disorders.” Whiplash can also occur with sudden movement changes in any direction.
Because it is a neck injury, first responders and medical personnel often treat whiplash as an emergency. Healthcare providers also approach it with extreme caution until they can confirm, treat and stabilize a life-threatening injury or rule out such an injury.
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Whiplash can affect anyone at any age, but it is more likely to cause serious or permanent injuries in two groups: older adults and women, and people assigned female at birth (AFAB). It is more serious in older adults (over 65) because they are typically more prone to all kinds of muscle and bone damage. This is usually due to the weakening and weakening of muscles and bones due to aging.
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Women and AFAB people are more likely to suffer whiplash-type injuries in car crashes, which can be due to a number of factors:
Whiplash happens because one law of physics, the law of inertia, affects the human body. Think about what it’s like to be in a moving car when the driver suddenly slams on the brakes. Inertia is why your body moves forward even when the car stops. Inertia is also the reason you push back into your seat if the driver suddenly hits the gas and goes from a complete stop to rapid acceleration.
Just as you are the passenger in the car in the analogy above, your brain is the passenger in your skull. Sharp, sudden movements can cause your brain to hit the inside of your skull, causing injury to your brain. Therefore, your neck is like a shock absorber for your head, which naturally compresses, extends or twists to minimize the effects of sudden movements on the brain.
Whiplash occurs when inertia causes the head, neck and body to move at different speeds. This forces your neck to compress or extend too quickly or in ways that push the muscles, ligaments and bones of the spine beyond what they can tolerate.
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The sharper and stronger the movement, the greater the force on the neck. Therefore, whiplash injuries can range from minor to serious. However, even low force levels can still cause moderate to severe whiplash. Experts don’t fully understand why this happens, but research continues. At worst, whiplash can break the vertebrae in the neck and cause a risk of damage to the spinal cord and the network of nerves connected to it.
The symptoms of whiplash depend on how severe the whiplash was and how severely your neck is overextended or compressed. The greater the stretch or compression, the greater the injury.
A key part of whiplash symptoms is timing. Some symptoms of whiplash can begin immediately after the impact, while others take at least 12 hours to appear. Sometimes it can take a whole day or even a few days before all the symptoms appear.
Because whiplash can have different effects, experts created a classification system based on the severity of whiplash-related illnesses. This classification system, known as the Quebec Classification of Whiplash-Associated Disorders, is as follows:
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At this level, a person with whiplash does not feel pain or show signs or symptoms of injury.
This is the first level where the person has pain and other symptoms from level 1 and physical signs of injury. Pain can also have different effects than 1st degree pain. The symptoms of Grade 2 whiplash are e.g.
Grade 3 whiplash includes neurological symptoms. These happen because the swelling or inflammation interferes with the nerve signals that travel through the injured area on their way to or from the brain.
This is the highest level of disease associated with epigastric stroke. These are usually accompanied by all the above symptoms, especially neurological ones, but are more severe. When neurological symptoms are more severe, it may indicate that at least one vertebra in the neck is fractured or out of balance or out of place, putting pressure on the spinal cord or nearby nerves.
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Whiplash happens when your movement speed or direction suddenly changes. Some of the most common events or activities that can lead to whiplash include:
Although the above are the most common possible causes, whiplash can occur in many other ways. Even simple slips and falls can cause whiplash under the right circumstances
Whiplash is a diagnosis of exclusion. This means that healthcare providers make a diagnosis after ruling out more serious conditions that need immediate treatment or other possible causes. Ruling out these other conditions involves a combination of diagnostic tests, imaging scans, physical and neurological exams, and more. Health care providers will also ask you questions about your symptoms and any events that may have caused whiplash, especially car accidents.
There are several possible tests, most of which are imaging scans, that can help a provider rule out other conditions or problems and diagnose whiplash, including:
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Whiplash is treatable but cannot be directly cured. Instead, the goal of treatment is to allow the victim to heal on his own as much as possible while supporting the healing process and minimizing symptoms. Some people may also need treatment for chronic problems that result from whiplash.
Some whiplash treatments are most helpful immediately after the injury, while others are best when used to treat the long-term effects and chronic problems of whiplash. Some can do both. The most common treatments for whiplash (more on them below) are:
Because whiplash can affect your spine and spinal cord, it’s common for people with possible neck and back injuries to get some form of protective treatment right away. An example is a cervical collar (C-collar), which emergency personnel can put around a person’s neck at the scene of a crash.
The C-neck has a rigid frame that keeps your head and neck in line so your vertebrae don’t press on or damage your spinal cord. This also helps prevent your neck muscles from bearing the weight of your head, which can be very painful if your neck muscles are injured.
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There are also other forms of immobilization. Your healthcare provider is the best person to tell you about the forms available and which forms they recommend.
Medicines are an important part of wheezing treatment and help to resolve many symptoms. Since there are many symptoms, many different medicines can help. The most common medications that providers prescribe to treat whiplash include:
Many other drugs are also possible. Your health care provider is the best person to tell you about the drug options they recommend.
Experts recommend using cold packs for the first 7-10 days to reduce swelling and inflammation. After this, gentle warmth and heating can help improve blood flow to the injured area, which promotes healing of the damaged tissues.
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Recovery from whiplash can often involve physical therapy. This form of treatment uses guided exercises to strengthen the damaged areas after they have healed. This can help you regain more function in the injured area and can also help with associated symptoms such as pain.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, or TENS for short, is a form of treatment that delivers a mild electrical current through the skin to the surface of the nerve endings. Your nerves use electrical signals to communicate, so applying an external electrical current at a low level can help with pain in these areas. Using a TENS unit for pain relief is similar to using white noise to help you drown out other sounds while you sleep.
One way to treat chronic pain is to block the nerves in the affected area from sending pain signals. This is especially helpful when an injury results in nerve damage, where the damaged nerves send more pain signals than they should. This treatment uses RF energy to heat and intentionally damage target nerves, causing them to stop sending pain signals. This can reduce pain for weeks or months.
In rare cases, whiplash injuries – especially torn ligaments or broken vertebrae – require surgery. Spine surgery can stabilize damaged areas of the spine and prevent nerve damage and pain.
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Possible complications and side effects of whiplash treatments
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