Whiplash is one of the most common injuries people develop after being in a car accident, affecting over 1 million car crash victims each year. Whiplash occurs when the force of impact, such as that created during a car accident, causes the head to jerk violently back and forth. Individuals most commonly develop whiplash after a rear-end collision, but you can develop it in any type of car crash — including those that occur at speeds as low as 5 mph.
Though whiplash generally goes away on its own with little or no treatment, complications arise in approximately 10% of cases. Whether you are at risk of developing complications or simply want to speed up the recovery process, it may be in your best interests to seek whiplash treatment from an experienced car accident doctor in the days immediately following your crash.
Whiplash: An Overview
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury that develops when the neck extends beyond its normal range of motion and at speeds to which it is not accustomed. In terms of car accident injuries, it is relatively mild and requires little more than at-home care to treat. However, it can cause you significant pain and discomfort in the early days after your accident. In severe cases, that pain and discomfort may continue for far longer than is normal, such as up to a year and beyond. To prevent complications, you should seek a diagnosis and treatment from a qualified car accident doctor as soon as you start developing symptoms.
Whiplash is tricky in that it is a delayed car accident injury. What this means is that most people do not begin to develop symptoms until hours or even days after the triggering event. If your case is more typical than not, you may start to notice symptoms within the first 24 hours of the crash. However, the first signs may not arise until days later. Typically, whiplash symptoms look more or less the same for everyone. The most common symptoms are as follows:
- Headache, especially at the base of the skull
- Neck stiffness and pain
- Pain and stiffness across the shoulders
- Blurred vision
- Chronic fatigue
Some car accident victims do develop less common symptoms of whiplash. Those are as follows:
- Neck muscle spasms
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Memory and concentration problems
- Sleep disturbances
Once you begin to develop symptoms, consult with a car accident injury doctor regarding whiplash treatment.
Often, whiplash patients recover completely from their injuries. However, in rare cases, individuals may develop complications that linger for years, if not their entire lifetimes. Lingering complications may include ongoing pain, chronic headaches, and neurological issues, such as difficulty concentrating, insomnia, and sudden mood swings. Though there is no known medical cause for why some people develop whiplash complications, health care professionals suspect it has something to do with damage to the discs, joints, and/or ligaments in the neck.
Seek a Diagnosis as Soon as You Develop Whiplash Symptoms
If you develop symptoms of whiplash in the hours or days following your car accident, the best thing you can do to protect your physical health and legal rights is to seek a proper diagnosis from a car accident doctor. Your initial appointment may consist of three parts: a Q&A session, a physical exam, and imaging tests.
When you first meet with your doctor, he or she may ask you about the accident and injury. He or she will want to know how the accident happened, what you felt during the accident, how you feel now, and whether the pain is shooting, dull or sharp. Once your doctor feels you have provided all the information he or she needs to know, you will move on to the physical portion of the exam. During the physical exam, your doctor may check for tenderness, assess the range of motion in your neck, and look for any bruising.
Though not always necessary to make a whiplash diagnosis, your doctor may order imaging tests such as CT scans, X-rays, and MRI scans. These tests allow your doctor to assess for inflammation along the spinal cord, in the soft tissues or among the nerves. Imaging tests are also helpful for identifying possible brain injuries.
In rare cases, car accident injury doctors order more advanced forms of imaging tests, such as positron emission tomography and diffuse tensor imaging. Your doctor may only order these kinds of tests if he or she suspects brain damage, as both PET scans and DTIs can find and measure the extent of damage to the brain and other areas of the body.
Prevent Complications With Whiplash Treatment
The best way to prevent adverse outcomes of whiplash following a car accident is to seek a diagnosis and treatment from a qualified car accident doctor. The sooner you schedule a visit with a doctor, the less likely you are to exacerbate your injury and develop complications in the future. After performing a thorough exam, your doctor may prescribe a course of treatment that includes a mixture of at-home care and professional therapy.
At-Home Care for Whiplash
If your whiplash symptoms are mild, your doctor may advise you to do little more than rest, take over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin or acetaminophen, and apply heat and ice alternatingly to the injured area. If your doctor suspects that tension will be a problem for your recovery, he or she may prescribe muscle relaxers. You may also have to wear a neck brace for support for a short period.
Physical Therapy for Whiplash
If your injury is more severe, your doctor may recommend range-of-motion exercises you can do at home to stretch the injured area and help strengthen it. However, if at-home exercises prove inefficient, or if your doctor thinks you can benefit from professional help right away, he or she may recommend physical therapy. Like at-home neck exercises, physical therapy can help to strengthen your neck muscles and reduce your pain.
Chiropractic Care for Whiplash
More stubborn cases of whiplash may require spinal manipulation, massage therapy, trigger point therapy, epidural spinal injections, electronic nerve stimulation, and other more intensive forms of therapy to heal. If yours is one such case, your doctor may recommend chiropractic care as a form of whiplash treatment.
Soft Tissue Rehabilitation
Soft tissue rehabilitation can help heal torn, sprained, or otherwise damaged tendons, ligaments and muscles along the neck and spine. If the soft tissues in your neck or back fail to heal properly in the months following your crash, soft tissue rehabilitation may be the next line of treatment.
Finally, your car accident injury doctor may recommend surgery as a last resort. Surgical treatment is rarely necessary for whiplash but may be the only option for individuals who developed herniated discs or spinal fractures in the accident. Surgery can help realign the spine and restore joint movement.
See a Car Accident Doctor Who Specializes in Whiplash Treatment
After a car accident that leaves you injured, you should not work with just any doctor. You should work with a doctor who has experience helping car accident victims recover from their injuries and, just as importantly, who maintains an expansive network of both health care and legal professionals.
After an accident, you may find that you are dealing with more than just physical pain and the associated recovery. You may also face financial challenges, issues with your insurance claim and legal worries, all of which can slow your recovery. The right doctor will provide relief for your injuries first and foremost. However, he or she will go on to do more than that. He or she will connect you with the health professionals who can aid in your recovery, answer any questions you have regarding insurance and billing, and, if necessary, refer you to a reputable personal injury lawyer.
Just as important as your recovery, the right car accident doctor can tie your whiplash injury to your car accident. If you later develop symptoms, or if the cost of your whiplash treatment proves to be more than you can afford, it will be beneficial for you to have medical records dating back to as soon after your accident as possible. Your doctor can forward your medical records to your personal injury lawyer, if applicable, and thereby streamline the discovery process of your claim.
Get the Specialized Treatment You Need
Some people will tell you to only seek whiplash treatment if you experience symptoms that linger for more than two weeks or if your pain prevents you from engaging in most or all of your daily activities. We encourage you to ignore this advice and to schedule an appointment with a car accident doctor as soon as you suspect something is amiss. At CityWide Injury & Accident, your first exam is free, which means it costs you no more than an hour of your time to take the first step toward protecting your health and legal rights. Do not wait for your pain to become unbearable. Make your appointment today.
Joe Danna is a Chiropractor specialist practicing in Houston, TX. Where he has lived his whole life.