What comes to mind when you read about whiplash? Perhaps aching muscles and a cumbersome neck brace come to mind? Whiplash has been a controversial diagnosis for a long time because its symptoms often don't appear until several days later. But it's a very real thing. Whiplash can occur any time the neck is quickly jerked -- which is most often caused by an abrupt motion, collision or even a concussion. Generally, people associate whiplash with automobile accidents. The drivers and passengers in either vehicle in a collision from any edition of impact are susceptible to whiplash.
With that being said, why don't those suffering from whiplash feel the pain immediately after the impact much like injuries in a hamstring pull or ankle sprain? Unless it is a very severe accident, any impact between 5mph and upwards of 45mph can damage the ligaments and soft tissues closest to the pine. These structures are used for holding up your neck and keeping your spine upright. You may not feel the effects until later because the inflammation from these mini tears or mini injuries don't come to the surface until hours or even days later.
Your body is essentially shocked and the important small muscles in your neck and spine "shut off". "Shutting off" or inhibition can be caused by inflammation or swelling. When your muscles are inhibited for a long period, it decreases the spine's ability to be stable.
Some other injuries that may be sustained during a car accident are shoulder injuries and nerve injuries from the seatbelt. Also, not to mention the brain fog that can affect your thinking and word finding.
So what should you do after a car accident? Immediately or as soon as you can ice your neck, shoulders and even your lower back and continue to do so for the next three days. You should also schedule an evaluation with a medical professional, preferably a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Don't wait for your car insurance to give you approval. Trust me, just get evaluated.
WAiting after the accident exponentially increases your recovery time if you have been severely injured. It is also very possible that the effects of this collision may not appear until years later. You may be surprised to find that shoulder, neck and lower back injuries and even headaches could arise from the collision.
I've found that patients who wait longer to get treatment take anywhere from 3-6 months longer to recover. Those seeking help immediately can recover in anywhere from 2-4 weeks.
So don't wait to receive treatment if you have whiplash!
Remember, we can and we will get better together.
Dr. Justin C. Lin