If you’ve been in a car accident, or an injury that resulted in neck pain, soreness or stiffness, even if it didn’t begin right away, you may be suffering from whiplash!
1 – What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a sprain/strain injury of the neck which occurs when a person’s head moves rapidly forward and/or backward. This means that the muscles and ligaments of the neck have been stretched or even torn during the injury. Car accidents are the most common cause of whiplash. It can also occur if your body falls to the ground, is pushed, or struck in a way that causes your body to move faster than your head without any support. This causes the head and neck to “whip” back and forth as they follow to catch-up to the movement of the rest of the body. Hence the name “whiplash.”
2 – What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
A common question we hear is, “Can whiplash cause back pain?” And the answer is YES!
Other common symptoms of Whiplash can include the following:
- Neck pain
- Neck stiffness
- Pain radiating across the shoulders
- Upper back pain
- Pain, tingling, or numbness going down one or both arms
- Difficulty getting comfortable or sleeping well at night
3 – How Long After an Accident Can You Get Whiplash?
Usually the symptoms of whiplash will begin to surface within the first 2-3 days following the initial injury (if not immediately), however depending the situation, some people may be unaware for several weeks or even months before realizing that their symptoms are due to a whiplash injury. If whiplash is not properly diagnosed and treated right away it can lead to chronic pain which can last for months or years, and leave you more likely to have future problems such as osteoarthritis around the area of the injury.
4 – How Long Will it Take To Recover From Whiplash?
If whiplash is diagnosed right away and appropriately treated, most cases should resolve between 6-8 weeks. Every case can be different in severity, and not all cases heal at the same pace. In cases of more severe ligament damage, full recovery may not be possible, or may take much longer. For this reason we always include strengthening exercises as a part of our treatment program to ensure more strength and stability to help reduce the potential for future problems.
5 – How is Whiplash Diagnosed?
Whiplash is most accurately diagnosed with specialized x-ray images which must be performed with the neck in a flexed-forward position and an extended backward position. When the ligaments of the neck have been stretched or torn, these specialized x-rays can often reveal signs of whiplash.
Unfortunately the routine x-rays performed in an emergency room are intended to only detect fractures, and very often performed lying down instead of standing upright. Due to the concern over fracture, the x-rays in an emergency room will often not be performed in the necessary positions to properly evaluate the severity of whiplash.
In our clinic we can typically perform these important x-rays on your first visit.
6 – How Do You Sleep When You Have Whiplash?
Sleeping can be very difficult when suffering with whiplash, and yet getting enough quality sleep is extremely important in the healing process. There are several factors that will determine which position will be most comfortable, including your natural posture and the condition of your neck prior to the injury.
As a general rule, you should try to have a neutral position of the spine without any twisting.
For stomach sleepers: DO NOT sleep on your stomach! If you are a stomach sleeper, this may be a challenge, however you may find that this position is already too painful while you are recovering.
For back sleeping: Use only one pillow, and make sure the pillow has an ergonomic shape to allow slightly more support for the neck than for the head, or a pillow that is not too large or bulky. If you are also having lower back pain, you may consider trying a second pillow to go under your knees.
For side sleeping: Consider using a body pillow or a second pillow between your knees to help prevent twisting your back or rolling forward onto your stomach.
Conclusion: Whiplash is a very common injury that if not properly diagnosed and treated, can cause pain and vulnerability to future injuries for months or even years to come.