Your neck is built up of seven bones accumulated on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is moderately flexible, so it relies on your muscles and ligaments for support. "Whiplash" explains what happens when these tissues are stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope that frays when it is expanded beyond its capability.
Auto accidents are the leading reason most people experience whiplash. Up to 83% of people involved in an accident will suffer a whiplash injury. The extent of your injury can be predicted by several factors. Patients who are struck from behind in a rear-end collision generally suffer the most injury.
Being struck by a larger or heavier vehicle also increases your risk. Your vehicle does not need to be visibly degraded or damaged in order for you to be harmed. In fact, the amount of damage to your vehicle has a very limited relationship to your injuries. Most new cars have shock-absorbing bumpers that reduce damage to the vehicle but do not necessarily guard the occupants in low-speed collisions. Rear-end forces of less than 5 MPH routinely give rise to notable symptoms.
Other factors that improve your risk of injury include: poorly positioned head restraints, wet or icy roads, having your head rotated or increased at the time of impact, and being oblivious of the impending collision. As we age, our tissues grow less elastic, and our risk of damage increases. Women are more likely to be damaged than males. Those who have pre-existing arthritis are more likely to receive complaints.
Symptoms may begin quickly or have a delayed onset. Originally, you may notice some soreness in the front of your neck that usually disappears promptly. Ongoing objections often involve a dull neck pain that grows more obvious when you move your head. The pain is usually centered in the back of your neck but can radiate to your shoulders or in your shoulder blades. Tension headaches ordinarily accompany neck injuries.
Dizziness and TMJ difficulties are possible. Symptoms may develop over time. Rest may help your symptoms but also will often leads to stiffness. Be sure to inform your doctor if you have any symptoms of a more serious injury, including a severe or "different" headache, loss of consciousness, confusion, or "fogginess," difficulty concentrating, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, change in vision, nausea, vomiting, numbness or tingling in your arms or face, weakness or clumsiness in your arms and hands, decreased bowel or bladder control, or fever.
Sprain/strain injuries make your normal and fit elastic tissue to be replaced with tighter elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to continuous pain and even arthritis. Over half of those who are injured will possess neck pain up to a year after their accident. Exploring for early and appropriate treatment, like the type provided in our office, is crucial. If you are travelling with others, it is quite likely that they too were hurt. It would be in every passenger's best interest to be checked out as soon as possible.
Depending on the severity of your damage, you may need to limit substantial activity for a while, but you must realize that pain is a normal reaction to injury and that significantly restricting your activities of daily living may delay your recovery. You should try to "act as usual" and continue normal daily exercises as soon as possible.
Avoid heavy lifting, and take regular breaks from strenuous activity, especially overhead activity. Avoid using heavy headgear, like a hardhat or helmet, if possible. Cervical collars seldom help and should be avoided unless you are advised otherwise. You can apply ice for 10-15 minutes each hour for the first couple of days. Heat may be helpful thereafter. Ask your doctor for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports creams.