If you or someone that you know has ever been in a car accident, you’re no stranger to whiplash. Basically, it refers to soft tissue damage of the muscle(s) in the neck caused by a sudden jolt. In many cases, whiplash is caused by being struck from behind.
Women are more susceptible to whiplash injuries than men; experts believe it is because women's neck muscles are usually not as strong as men's.
Typically what happens is that the body is pushed or accelerated forward and, for that instant, the head stays stationary. In a typical case, the victim's body is initially pushed or accelerated forward while the head remains behind for an instant, making the head rock up and back. This rapid jolt causes stretching and/or tearing of some muscles, tendons and ligaments. As a reflex motion, the muscles react to bring the head forward and when this is overdone, the head may jerk forward causing further stretching and tearing.
Tendons are tissues by which muscles attach to bone; they are flexible, fibrous and tough. According to www.medicalnewstoday.com, tendons are like ligaments because they are tough flexible cords. Ligaments go from bone-to-bone while tendons go from muscle-to-bone. Although tendons and ligaments are tough, they are known as soft tissue because tey are often compared to bones and cartilage.
We often associate whiplash as a result of being hit behind, but the impact can come from any direction. The head may move in any direction thereby causing injury. It is important to keep in mind that whiplash injury is not isolated to impact from vehicles. A blow to the head during sports like football, karate or boxing could also result in whiplash. In fact, falling off a horse or bicycle could also result in this soft tissue damage. In any of these injuries, the neck has not been broken but the ligament has been overstretched.
Complete healing time from whiplash may take several months. The injury victim may experience stiffness, pain, headaches, muscle spasms, shoulder pain, and/or temporary loss of movement in the neck. The website notes that a whiplash injury typically takes from 12 to 24 hours after the accident or blow to develop. At the time of the incident any swelling or bruising to the neck muscles are not immediately apparent. The stiffness and pain will be worse on the day following day and may continue to worsen each day.
Diagnosis usually begins with an x-ray to rule out broken bones or other conditions like a fracture or dislocation. A CT scan may be administered to present a more detailed picture of the bone and tissues because it can be seen on a monitor. It is the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan that will provide the health care provider with a detailed picture of the affected area. The MRI technology uses radio waves and magnetic field to detect soft tissue injuries. From this reading the health care professional can prescribe the best course of treatment.
Whiplash injuries are treated with monitored care and pain relief medication. According to the NHS (National Health Service – UK), 60 percent of the cases reported symptoms cleared up in one to four weeks. The treatment regimen normally includes ice on the injury immediately after injury, directed exercise under the care of a health care professional and pain medication.
In some cases, a soft foam cervical collar is recommended to keep the neck stationary during the healing process. However, some experts believe that immobilizing the neck for long periods may undermine recovery, because muscle bulk and strength is reduced. If a cervical collar is needed, it should usually be worn for more than three hours at a time. As with all injuries, follow the advice of your trusted health care provider and ask questions so that you get the care and treatment that you deserve.