Last Updated on July 31st, 2017
Neck Pain and Whiplash
Whiplash is a nonmedical term used to describe neck pain following an injury to the soft tissues of your neck (specifically ligaments, tendons, and muscles). A doctor may use the more specific terms of cervical sprain, cervical strain, or hyperextension injury. It is caused by an accidental motion or force applied to your neck which results in movement beyond the neck’s normal range of motion.
The most frequent cause of whiplash is a car accident. Surprisingly, the speed of the cars involved in the accident or the amount of physical damage to the car may not relate to the intensity of neck injury. Speeds as low as 15 miles per hour can produce enough energy to cause whiplash to a passenger in your car, whether or not they are wearing a seat belt.
Neck pain, swelling, tenderness along the back of your neck, muscle spasms (on the side or back of neck), difficulty moving your neck around, headache, and pain shooting from your neck into either shoulder or arm are all signs and symptoms that may occur immediately or minutes to hours after the initial injury. The sooner after the injury that symptoms develop, the greater the chance of serious damage.
To prevent whiplash you should always wear your seat belt and adjust your headrest to the proper height when driving. The middle of the headrest should be even with the upper tips of your ears. Seat belts with shoulder harnesses as well as headrests may not reduce the risk of whiplash but should be used in all motor vehicles because they reduce the risk of death and serious injury.
Most people recover completely from a whiplash injury in the first 12 weeks. Others’ symptoms continue to improve over the course of a year. You have a 40% chance of experiencing some symptoms after 3 months, and an 18% chance after 2 years. A worse outcome has been reported in people with a more rotated or inclined head position at the time of impact injury. The amount of time that elapses between injury and onset of your neck symptoms can predict the severity of injury and your prognosis. A shorter time signifies a potentially severe injury with more frequent long-term complications.
It is important to understand that injuries pertaining to whiplash are often overlooked by juries because of the ability of such a low-impact or slow moving car to cause whiplash to a person in the vehicle who is wearing a seat belt. Ironically, studies show that seat belts actually increase the whiplash symptoms in lower impact crashes due to its catching you and throwing your body back while your head is still moving forward. If you are in an automobile accident, it is important to recognize the symptoms of whiplash as soon as they begin to occur and to receive treatment for your pain in order to better prove your case.
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