It’s a scary moment too many of us have felt. Something suddenly sends your body forward in a rolling motion and you feel the painful pull in your upper back and neck. Maybe a fender bender, a tackle on the football field or an amusement park ride was the cause. All these situations can lead to whiplash. What is a whiplash injury and why is it so serious?
Causes of a Whiplash Injury
When a powerful force hits your body, the parts of your body can move unevenly. If your head, neck and torso absorb the force differently and move at different speeds, whiplash is the result. The vertebrae in your neck stretch or compress too quickly and the muscles in that area become strained. This motion can cause strain all along the spinal column as it is thrown out of alignment.
Our Phoenix car accident lawyers know that auto crashes are a very common cause of whiplash. You may not realize it, but when you are driving in a car, your body is moving at the same speed as the car. When a crash happens and the car suddenly stops, your body is still moving at that speed for a split second until a restraint attached to the car, such as the seatbelt, stops you. It’s this change in momentum that sends your body into a dangerous movement.
Similarly, when you are sitting in a stopped car and someone rear-ends your vehicle, a large amount of force suddenly tries to move your body, causing the whipping motion. Often, these types of crashes seem minor, but they have the potential to lead to serious injuries and damage.
In Arizona, AZDOT reports rear-end crashes accounted for nearly half of wrecks in 2019, making them the most common type of crash. This means you may be more at risk of an injury than you may realize.
You could also suffer a whiplash injury while playing recreational sports. Any activity where there is a risk of being tackled increases the chance of a neck or back injury. Taking a hit to the midsection could make your head snap forward as your body moves backward, leading to injury. Football, rugby and soccer are all high-risk activities.
Roller Coasters and Rides
Rides at amusement parks could throw your body out of alignment. Roller coasters often feature sharp turns and big drops at high speeds as part of the thrill. However, a passenger who isn’t secured properly may find themselves getting tossed around on the ride, which can cause spinal problems. Anytime you get on a ride, make sure you meet the weight and height requirements, and strap in properly.
Simply falling the wrong way could cause a more serious injury than you may expect. This is especially a risk if you slip on something, changing the momentum in your body in odd ways. Even when you think a slip and fall isn’t a big deal, it is worth getting yourself checked out afterwards.
Higher Risk of Whiplash
According to the Cleveland Clinic, some people are more at risk of suffering whiplash than others. Older adults are more likely to have problems because aging makes people more susceptible to muscle and bone injuries as they lose muscle mass and bone density.
Women also face a higher risk of getting a whiplash injury. Women and men have different spinal column structures, and the space between women’s vertebrae makes women more vulnerable. Height also plays a factor. Being shorter could mean that a car’s seatbelt and headrest don’t properly align with women’s bodies, so these features offer less protection in case of a car crash.
Symptoms of a Whiplash Injury
After you find yourself in any situation that could lead to a back injury, you need to be able to get the right care for yourself. That starts with understanding what whiplash feels like, so take time to learn the signs. Those symptoms can vary depending on how severe the injury is.
The most obvious symptom will be pain in your neck. This is the spot where the most jarring movement happens in a whiplash incident, so the muscles in the neck and upper back are most likely to be strained. The pain may occur when you try to move your neck or when someone touches the muscles. The pain could also spread to your mid-back and shoulders.
Aside from just pain, you may notice other muscle problems. Spasms may happen that limit your range of motion. If you turn your head and feel a painful tightening of the muscle, this is a sign that you have an injury. Your muscles could also swell and start to become bruised, indicating that you have some damage to the tissue.
A serious issue that can occur after a whiplash injury is muscle weakness. It may feel hard to hold your head up or you may feel too weak to move much. This is a big concern and it is a sign that you need medical treatment for your neck and back.
In the most severe whiplash cases, you may have neurological symptoms along with neck and muscle pain. Watch out for any numbness in the neck, back or shoulders. Similarly, don’t ignore tingling sensations in those same areas after a crash or fall. These symptoms indicate that you may be dealing with injuries to your nerves, not just your muscles.
Headaches are also symptoms of whiplash. Sometimes a headache happens after a crash because you actually hit your head, but other times it can be a sign of problems with the alignment of your spine and central nervous system. Dizziness or vertigo can also happen, along with vision problems, memory issues, and a ringing in the ear. These all point to a serious injury that needs medical treatment as soon as possible.
Often, a person who is in a car crash doesn’t feel like they have any pain in the immediate aftermath. Adrenaline in their body blocks some of the pain signals. It may take 12 hours before the signs of whiplash appear. Make sure to watch for problems in the hours and days after a crash, even small fender benders.
Treatment for a Whiplash Injury
When you suspect you have whiplash, you need the right treatment as soon as possible. The first step is to immediately seek an evaluation after any possibly injurious incident, even if you think you are OK. A doctor may detect problems before you feel the symptoms so you have a better chance to get the care you need.
To diagnose a whiplash injury, doctors will do a few different things. They will likely start with an exam of your neck and back to see your range of motion. Expect them to ask if there is any pain associated with certain movements or when certain muscles are touched. A doctor will also ask a lot of questions about any current medical conditions or previous injuries to rule out other problems.
You may also need a medical scan to get a diagnosis. X-rays, CT scans and MRIs can show damage to your spinal column and muscles. The MRI and CT scan are particularly useful since whiplash can cause damage to your tissues without causing any broken bones. These screenings will show any injuries to the actual muscles.
Once your doctor concludes that you have suffered a whiplash injury, treatment starts. The first line of treatment is for your spine to be immobilized. In minor cases, minimizing movement in the affected area may be all that is needed. You can give your body time to heal itself. A cervical collar that keeps your neck straight and supports your head allows the muscles to rest and recover.
While your neck is immobilized, you may still be in pain, so your doctor will likely prescribe medication to help you cope with your soreness. Minor to moderate cases may only need over-the-counter painkillers that you probably already have in your home. In more severe cases, anti-inflammatory medicines are needed to reduce the swelling in the muscles.
You may also get muscle relaxers to help with your discomfort. These are helpful if you are having muscle spasms or extreme stiffness. The medicine eases the tension in your body, allowing you to rest and heal.
In bad cases of whiplash, you might need help regaining full range of motion and strength in your muscles. Your doctor could recommend physical therapy and exercises that work the muscles in your neck, shoulders and back. By strengthening this area, it is easier for your neck to support your head and you will have less pain. You can also help yourself at home with hot and cold packs as needed.
For injuries that are really severe, surgery could be needed to correct or repair any vertebrae that are in the wrong place after the injury. This is a serious undertaking with a tough recovery, so often doctors will try to find other ways to treat your injury.
To get the best recovery, make sure to follow your doctor’s orders. Getting bed rest, avoiding heavy lifting and maintaining certain postures could all be part of your recovery regimen. Don’t rush yourself back to full activity levels, even if you feel like your injury was minor. You could cause more damage and prolong your recovery.
Long-Term Effects of a Whiplash Injury
Injuries to your spinal column are not always the easiest to recover from, and you may have long-term problems. This is one of the reasons it is important to hold accountable anyone who may be responsible for your accident. You will want the resources to deal with the future effects of the damage to your body.
The most serious whiplash cases involve damage to your vertebrae and spinal column. If a vertebra is broken, there is a risk of permanent disability. Back surgery to correct the issue will take a toll on your body, and according to the Mayo Clinic, back surgeries are not always completely successful in relieving pain. You may spend months out of commission without returning to 100%.
Nerve and Muscle Damage
Long-term pain from nerve damage is also possible. Shifts in your spine could pinch nerves, causing reoccurring pain for years to come. This kind of pain can be hard to fix, and most people have to use painkillers to treat the symptoms.
Untreated inflammation related to a whiplash injury could also cause problems with your muscles. Scar tissue could develop and you could notice a reduced range of motion for a long time after your crash or accident.
Injuries to your neck and nerves could also impact your balance in the long run. If you notice signs of your equilibrium being off, get treatment and look into physical therapy. If you suffer a concussion along with your whiplash, you could also have to deal with the neurological problems that come with that condition.
Issues such as these could impact your ability to work and your quality of life, so whiplash is nothing to make light of or ignore. Take the time to get the care and treatment you need as soon as possible so you can reduce how this serious health condition changes the way you live.
Getting the Help You Deserve for a Whiplash Injury
Whiplash is a common injury, but that doesn’t mean it’s not serious. It can cause a lot of pain and inconvenience, and even long-term symptoms that you may have to cope with during your everyday life.
When someone else is the cause of your injury, you have the right to hold them responsible and get the help you need. Working with a Phoenix spinal cord injury lawyer, find out your legal options to seek compensation for the changes in your life you must deal with because of someone else’s actions. If you need help with your whiplash injury after an accident in Arizona, contact the team at MDK Law Group right now.