Rear-end car accidents are the No. 1 cause of whiplash, but not the only one. Whiplash happens anytime your head snaps back and forth with force that makes your neck crack like a whip. That means whiplash can result from a sports collision, a fall, or physical abuse, especially violent shaking.
Often, the pain and stiffness that come with whiplash subside after a few weeks of rest, medication, and gentle exercise. Other times, symptoms linger and lead to complications.
Matthew DeFroda, DC, at reNu Medical & Injury Center in Newark, Delaware, sees countless cases of whiplash and helps patients understand their injury so they can get the right treatment and find much-needed relief.
Here’s what you need to know about whiplash.
Whiplash in slow motion
To help you understand what happens when you get rear-ended, Dr. DeFroda has broken down the process frame by frame. As mentioned, whiplash can happen in a variety of scenarios, but we’ll use a car accident to illustrate it.
At the moment the accident occurs, your car seat slams into your back. This instantly loads your spine with energy and compresses your spinal column up toward your head.
As your torso lunges forward, your head has yet to experience the sudden force, because it hasn’t come into contact with the seat yet. This abnormal position changes the natural C-curve in your neck to an unnatural S-curve, which potentially damages your vertebrae, facet joints, discs, and other soft tissues.
Your torso is moving forward, but your head is traveling backward, until it, too, meets the accelerating force of the car seat, creating another opportunity for soft tissue damage in your neck.
Next, your head bounces forward off the back of the seat, thrusting it toward the front of the car. But your torso is strapped into the seatbelt, which stops the trajectory of your body but not your head, completing the whip of whiplash.
When you dissect it like this, you can see how violent and damaging whiplash can be, but it doesn’t take a severe accident to cause whiplash. Even seemingly minor crashes or falls can cause a lot of damage.
And don’t trust the condition of your car to determine the severity of your injury. Even solid vehicles that show little damage can transfer the force of the accident through the seats and result in whiplash.
Signs of whiplash
The primary symptoms of whiplash are pain, stiffness, and headaches, but there’s a lot more than meets the eye. Whiplash symptoms are notorious for showing up late. Although you may feel the effects immediately after the accident, it’s not unusual for a delayed onset up to 24 hours.
Always seek medical attention after an auto accident so we can check for internal injuries and hidden problems, including whiplash. Even if you feel fine, there are several injuries that can’t be detected without proper medical tests.
It’s especially important to see Dr. DeFroda if you experience serious symptoms, such as:
- Severe pain or increasing pain
- Tingling or numbness in your shoulders, arms, or hands
- Instability in your neck
- Inability to maintain your balance
- Depression, irritability, lack of concentration, or other behavioral changes
- Sleep issues
- Vision problems
- Ear ringing
- Difficulty swallowing or speaking
Dr. DeFroda is highly trained to diagnose and treat whiplash in several ways.
Relief from whiplash
The right treatment for your whiplash depends entirely on the extent of your injury and the duration and nature of your symptoms. If your whiplash is mild, Dr. DeFroda may suggest simple at-home treatments such as rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain medications.
He may also suggest chiropractic manipulation to realign your cervical spine and increase your range of motion, decrease inflammation, and reduce pain. This may free up any nerves that became compressed during the accident.
Cold laser therapy and massage therapy are also effective treatments for whiplash, again reducing swelling and pain.
In addition to medical care, we’re well-versed in handling the legal side of auto injuries, so we can guide you through paperwork and work with your attorney, if necessary.
If you or a loved one has whiplash, come see us for expert treatment to prevent the injury from leading to chronic pain and movement limitations. Call us today or request an appointment using our online tool.