Whiplash syndrome is a non-medical term used to describe neck injuries caused by rapid, sudden and very strong movements originating from the front, side, or back of the head. Whiplash occurs most often during motorized accidents, but this neck injury can also be caused by sports accidents, physical violence, or other trauma, for example when falling.
The term "whiplash" was first used in 1928. The term "railway spine", is used to describe similar conditions that are common to people involved in train accidents before 1928. Whiplash syndrome describes damage to structure and soft tissue of the neck and head, while "whiplash associated disorders", aka complications of Whiplash disorder, describe the condition of a more severe and chronic neck injury.
How can whiplash syndrome occur?
Whiplash syndrome occurs when the soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) of the neck suffers from tension due to a rapid movement that causes the head to fall forward and then back (or vice versa), or from the right-left side, beyond its normal range .
This sudden movement causes the neck tendons and ligaments to be attracted to stretch and tear, producing a reaction similar to a whip crack. In addition, this neck trauma can also injure the vertebrae, discs between bones, nerves, and other soft tissue.
Reported from Medicine Net, a recent study investigating whiplash syndrome in crash dummies during motorized accidents using high-speed cameras found that rear-end collision forces forced the lower cervical bone to a very stretched position, while bone the upper neck is in a loosened position. As a result, this collision causes an abnormal "S" shape in the cervical spine that is very prominent. It is estimated that this abnormal movement causes damage to the soft tissue that holds back the position of the cervix.
What can happen after experiencing a neck injury due to whiplash syndrome?
Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours after the incident that caused the neck injury, and can last for several weeks.
Common signs and symptoms of whiplash syndrome, including:
- Neck pain; neck feels stiff
- Headaches, especially in the lower part of the skull
- Lightheaded, dizzy
- Blurred vision
- Constant fatigue
Other less common symptoms associated with long-term chronic pain, including:
- Concentration and memory problems
- Ringing ears
- Difficulty sleeping soundly
- Easy to get angry
- Chronic pain in the neck, shoulders or head
Symptoms may not appear for some time, and will start to appear after a few days. Symptoms can also be present immediately after the incident. Therefore it is important to pay attention to any physical changes over the next few days after the accident.
Tingling and numbness in the shoulders, arms, and along the hand can also occur after you experience an incident. You should immediately follow up with your doctor if symptoms spread to your shoulder or arm, especially if moving your head hurts, or your arms feel weak.
Fortunately, whiplash syndrome in general is not a life-threatening injury, but can cause partially prolonged disability. Severe blows that cause neck tension can sometimes also cause concussion. Because a concussion can be a serious condition, you should immediately see a doctor. You need emergency medical care if you feel confused, nauseous, very sleepy, or unconscious.
What can be done to overcome neck injuries due to Whiplash syndrome?
The doctor will usually ask certain questions about your injury, such as how the injury occurred, where you feel the most pain, and whether the pain is blunt, sharp, or like being punctured repeatedly.
Doctors can also do a physical examination to check the range of neck motion and look for bruising areas, for example by x-rays, to be able to ensure your pain is not connected to other injuries or degenerative diseases such as arthritis. CT scans and MRI scans will allow the doctor to check for damage or inflammation of tissue, spine, or nerves.
Treatment for neck injuries like this is relatively simple. Doctors generally recommend that you use non-prescription painkillers, such as Tylenol, paracetamol, ibuprofen, or aspirin. More serious neck injuries may require prescription drugs, and muscle relaxants to reduce muscle spasms. You might be given a support collar to keep your neck stable. The collar should not be worn for more than three hours at a time, and may only be used for the first few days after injury.
This is the good news: Whiplash syndrome will recover by itself over time. To help speed up the recovery process, you can compress it with ice, as soon as possible after an injury. Ice used for compresses must first be wrapped in a towel or cloth to avoid direct contact between the skin and ice which can cause skin injury. You have to lie in bed by placing your head (which is first supported by a pillow) on top of the compress for 20-30 minutes every 3-4 times in the next 2-3 days. After that, you can apply warm water to your neck - with a cloth compress or take a warm bath.
You might also want to try alternative treatments for your neck injury, for example by:
- Massage: relieves some tension in the neck muscles
- Electronic nerve stimulation: This gentle electric current can help reduce neck pain
How long can a neck injury due to Whiplash syndrome be completely cured?
The recovery time for a neck injury depends on how serious your Whiplash trauma is. Most cases will subside in a few days. Others can spend weeks, even more, to heal. This is influenced by the speed of recovery that is different for each person.
After the acute symptoms of a neck injury disappear, the doctor will begin the rehabilitation process to train your neck muscles stronger and more flexible. Rehabilitation is also done to recover injuries and reduce the possibility of you injuring your neck again in the future.
Mild neck warm-up may start at this stage, and you can increase the intensity with the healing time. But, don't start exercising without discussing it first with your doctor. And, don't be in a hurry.
Don't try to return to daily physical routines until you can:
- Turning both sides without feeling pain or stiffness
- Nodding the head from front to back, or vice versa, in one full motion
- Shaking your head from both sides in one full motion without pain or stiffness
If you force yourself to do physical activity as usual before a neck injury is completely healed, you can risk chronic neck pain and permanent injury.
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