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Motor Vehicle Accidents

Head and neck injuries are always scary, no matter how minor. If you’ve experienced any kind of blow to your head or neck, you should take care to first check for any life-threatening injuries, and second, check for whiplash, one of the most common injuries to the neck – even if you don’t feel hurt. While symptoms may range from minor to severe, if left untreated, they can become chronic.

What is whiplash?

A normal resting position for your cervical spine, or neck, is a C-shape. When whiplash occurs, it is usually due to any impact that causes your head or neck to suddenly jerk forward or backward, creating an irregular S-shape curve. Both the upper and lower parts of your spine move beyond their normal range of motion, potentially causing misalignment of vertebrae, along with muscle and nerve damage or irritation.

Whiplash is commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, especially the most common crash types – the rear impact. Generally, it is the person in the vehicle that has been rear-ended that is most at risk for whiplash. However, whiplash is a common injury for athletes who play contact sports, like football, boxing, or martial arts, as well.

What are the symptoms of whiplash?

There are different grades of whiplash associated disorder, or WAD, with different levels of severity. Symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of the injury and include:

WAD 1:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • No physical signs are found upon examination – you have normal range of motion, no swelling, and normal strength
  • You’ve experienced either no or minor interference with normal daily activities

WAD 2:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness
  • Substantial interference with normal daily activities

WAD 3:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • In addition to the physical signs found in WAD 2, nerves are affected:
    • Reduced sensation
    • Absent reflexes
    • Weakness
    • Shooting pains
  • Substantial interference with normal daily activities

WAD 4:

  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Serious structural issues such as a fractured or dislocated vertebrae

If you believe you have WAD 4, immediate surgical consultation is typically needed in order to address any potential instability in your neck.

What to do if you think you have whiplash

  • After your accident, the first step is to make sure you don’t have any life-threatening injuries
  • Emergency medical practitioners will be able to assess and treat you for dangerous conditions like broken bones, dislocations, or damage to your internal organs
  • Once you’ve ruled out any immediate life-threatening conditions, you should make an appointment with your chiropractor so you can promptly get in for a proper examination of your spine, muscles, and nerves
  • 43% of patients will suffer long term symptoms following whiplash, and have a nearly 90% chance of symptoms remaining if they still exist after three months
  • Chiropractic has been shown in clinical research to significantly help both acute WAD I and WAD II patients, as well as to be the only proven effective treatment in chronic whiplash cases

Your chiropractor may also recommend at-home treatments to accompany theirs, including:

  • Gentle stretching exercises
  • Icing your neck to reduce pain and swelling
  • The use of a neck brace or collar for additional support
  • Applying moist heat, only after icing and after swelling has reduced

It’s extremely important to make sure you have fully healed before resuming regularly activities, especially sports, again. If you don’t, you could end up causing permanent injury and chronic neck pain.

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