A motor vehicle collision can be a traumatizing and inconvenient experience. From a small fender bender to a major impact collision, your car and your body can be damaged during the event. Sometimes, the physical effects are not felt for days or even weeks after the collision. Your back and neck can sustain severe trauma resulting in painful symptoms that can worsen without treatment. Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained in motor vehicle collisions.
What is Whiplash?
The human head weighs 9 to 17 pounds and is supported by your neck alone. A sudden impact can cause your head to be thrown violently forward, backwards, to the side or in a combination of directions in less than three hundredths of a second. When the head hits the end range of its motion (is fully stretched in the first direction), it then snaps back towards the direction from where it started. During the process there are a multitude of forces that can happen to your neck including stretching, straining and shearing of the tissues. In some cases we have even observed tonsillar herniation of the brain which means that the brainstem has been pulled into the hole in the bottom of your skull where the spinal cord exits into the spinal canal. Your neck cannot manage the weight of your head moving in such a dramatic fashion.
Immediate symptoms of whiplash may be mild or severe. They may include muscle pain and stiffness in the neck and shoulders, headaches, dizziness, visual disturbance and brain fog. Left untreated we have seen continuation of initial symptoms that can increase in severity as well as long term consequences including but not limited to diagnoses such as chronic migraines, fibromyalgia and even misdiagnosed Multiple Sclerosis.
After a collision your neck might not feel sore at all, but this doesn’t mean you won’t have whiplash. Symptoms are often slow to appear and they can last for weeks, months or longer. Even those involved in minor collisions or “fender benders” with little or no vehicle damage are encouraged to seek treatment for any injuries that may have resulted. Live human crash studies have shown symptoms in individuals who were rear ended at speeds as low as 2.5 miles per hour.
Ice your neck immediately to reduce any inflammation or swelling that would result from strained muscles. Ice in a zip lock bag directly on the skin at the site of injury is the best approach. Leave the ice on the skin until the area gets numb (often about 20 minutes) before removing it. Repeat every hour as needed. Do not use heat directly on an inflamed area. While the heat may feel good initially, it will increase swelling and the pain will be worse a few hours later. Take a warm bath or shower to soothe your muscles and then use ice immediately afterwards in order to reduce the swelling and inflammation.
We highly recommend that you do not mask the symptoms and ignore the root cause of your injury. Omega 3 fatty acids such as are found in a high quality fish oil will help reduce the pain and swelling caused by inflammation. Pain killers such as Ibuprofen will also reduce inflammation but they have dangerous side effects and may delay your seeking appropriate care to treat the cause of the problem. Please use medication with caution and listen to your body.