Causes of Whiplash
What Causes Whiplash?
In simple terms, whiplash is an injury of the neck caused by the stretching and straining of the neck. It generally occurs when the body is jerked suddenly, in a backwards and forwards, whip like movement.
The structures of the neck are mainly soft tissue such as muscles, ligaments and tendons and the 7 small bones that make up the cervical vertebrae. Its range of movement is fairly limited and yet, because it is slender and supports the weight of the head, a sudden and extreme motion can force it beyond its normal range damaging the soft tissue and, in severe whiplash, the bones in the neck.
One of the most common causes of whiplash is in a car crash. The sudden deceleration during impact causes the body to be thrown forwards, there is a slight delay before the head pitches up and backwards, and at this point some of the muscles and ligaments may be strained or torn. The head is then thrown forwards and stretching and tearing more muscles and ligament. Sometimes, the force is such that the neck over-bends so much that the chin strikes the chest.
Although road traffic accidents are the main recorded cause of whiplash it can happen during sports, particularly contact sports or sports where falls are likely. A punch to the head during a fight or assault and even a trip or slip can cause the head to jerk suddenly backwards and forwards resulting in some of the muscles and ligaments in the neck tearing.
Children who are abused can have symptoms of whiplash, particularly if the child has been violently shaken.
How can I tell if I have Whiplash Injury?
A headache, discomfort or pain in the back of the head and stiff neck are the most frequently reported symptoms. Symptoms don’t always appear immediately and it may be several hours or a few days before the victim experiences stiffness and pain in the neck. Minor whiplash injury symptoms will usually lessen after a few days or a few weeks before disappearing altogether.
How Dangerous is Whiplash?
Whiplash is a non fatal condition. However, in severe whiplash cases the vertebrae or spinal cord may be damaged. Periods of unconsciousness or memory loss after an accident and severe pain in the back of the head, pins and needles in the arms and shoulders or a feeling of heaviness in the arms, could indicate serious injury should be taken seriously and a doctor or hospital alerted.
Although most people make a complete recovery from whiplash injury some victims develop chronic conditions that continue to cause them problems for the rest of their lives.
What Will Help Relieve the Symptoms of Whiplash?
It is always advisable to seek advice from your GP or the Accident & Emergency department of the nearest hospital. However, there are a few things you can do to help relieve or reduce your symptoms. Ice packs placed on the neck within the first 24 hours will help reduce the inflammation. The best way to achieve this is to lay down with the ice pack placed under the back of the neck for 20 minutes at a time. Bags of frozen peas make ideal ice packs as they mold around the area but no matter what is used the ice pack should always be wrapped in a cloth or towel so that the ice doesn’t come into direct contact with the skin.
Over the counter pain killers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen etc should help to ease the pain and discomfort and reduce inflammation but it is advisable to consult a doctor first.
Keep the neck mobile with gentle exercise. Studies have shown that whiplash patients who rested for a few weeks or wore a soft collar didn’t recover as quickly as those who continued a normal routine.