Whiplash occurs when an intense motion forces the neck back and forth sharply. People often associate the condition with the sudden impact of car accidents, but whiplash injuries can arise from any traumatic incident. Those who suffer from whiplash may find the condition goes awayon its own after a certain time. For others, however, whiplash causes chronic pain that may interfere with daily activities.
What Exactly is a Whiplash Injury?
Whiplash primarily affects the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in the neck. During traumatic incidents, the neck may extend beyond a typical range of motion and pull or strain the soft tissues surrounding your spine. After a whiplash injury, you may feel the symptoms immediately or they may manifest some time later. For some, pain associated with whiplash injuries comes and goes over time.
Common Causes of Whiplash Injuries
In addition to the jarring movements and sudden stops associated with motor vehicle accidents, individuals may experience whiplash injuries as the result of:
- Slip and fall accidents
- Boating accidents
- Playground and amusement park incidents
- Repetitive motions associated with work or a hobby
- Bicycle accidents
- Contact sports incidents
You don’t need to travel at high speeds to sustain a whiplash injury. As with many injuries, the same accident could cause different whiplash symptoms in different people. While some individuals may experience lasting pain after experiencing whiplash, others may recover in a matter of days. If you do suffer from lasting symptoms associated with someone else’s negligent behavior, you may have grounds to file a personal injury claim against the individual or company responsible.
Whiplash Injury Symptoms
Common signs and symptoms of whiplash injuries often include:
- Swelling in the neck
- Muscle spasms in the back of the neck or upper back
- Unexplained headache and fatigue
- Problems focusing
- Difficulty moving the head after an accident
- If you notice these symptoms within yourself or a loved one, seek treatment as soon as possible. Let the treating health care practitioner know if you were involved in any recent repetitive motion activities or accidents.
Treating Whiplash Injuries
You may receive a whiplash diagnosis at the emergency room after an accident or at the doctor’s office sometime later. Health care practitioners diagnose the condition based on the signs and symptoms they observe, test results, and the context of the injury. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, a physician may recommend over-the- counter or prescription pain medications, a cervical collar, and rehabilitative treatments such as physical therapy, massage, or chiropractic care.
You may also learn about at-home treatment remedies such as limiting intensive physical activities and your range of motion. Apply ice to reduce the swelling associated with your injury, as you would for an ankle or wrist sprain. Although many whiplash injuries require at-home care over the course of a few weeks, do not assume your injury is minor. Seek a medical professional’s opinion before you begin a regimen of at-home care.
If your whiplash injury does not resolve itself within a few weeks, return to your health care practitioner. Some whiplash injuries damage the surrounding nerves, ligaments, and spinal discs, which can lead to chronic pain. Depending on the extent of damage, you may require corrective surgery.
Always take steps to reduce the risk of whiplash injuries. You never know when some careless driver will fail to brake behind you or a ballplayer might tackle you to the ground during a scrimmage. During sports, wear safety equipment such as helmets. Evaluate the safety rating of any car you purchase in the future, and position your headrest in the optimal position. Avoid riding on amusement park rides if you do not fit into the restraining system properly.
Accidents happen quickly and you may not have time to adequately protect your head and neck. After an accident that may have caused whiplash injuries, pay close attention to how your head and neck feel. Consider speaking with an attorney about your legal options, particularly if you suffer from long-term pain and rehabilitative treatment after a preventable whiplash injury.