We have all seen the slow-motion videos of a car accident where the occupant forcefully moves towards the steering wheel and then back into the seat. This sudden motion is commonly referred to as whiplash.
Whiplash occurs most commonly when the force is applied from behind; ie one vehicle rear ending another and the more the victim in the target vehicle isn’t expecting the crash the more potential of the (thrust of the body-head and neck forward and backward and therefore the worse the) injury.
For example, when the force is applied from the back, it is transferred to the hips/torso through the seat. The torso ramps up and the neck extends, while each vertebra is sliding forward, creating a reverse “S” curvature of the cervical spine. Meanwhile, the head is raising up and over the headrest/ top of the seat. This rebound forward flexion of the neck and head causes the tissues (muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves) to stretch, over-pull and microscopically tear. Not to mention the sheer force in between the vertebrae deranging the disc annulus fibers.
While whiplash injuries do not always cause immediate pain, it is always a good idea to seek medical care anytime your body experiences any type of trauma.
What happens to your body after a whiplash event?
The neck is particularly vulnerable to this type of injury because of its ability to move in many directions. The sudden movement can cause the joints of the neck to be injured and can also trigger the muscles and ligaments of the neck and upper back to be over-stretched.
The whiplash syndrome/symptoms can last and linger for a long time, and the most common symptoms of whiplash can be:
- Headaches, dizziness, confusion, woozy/dazed, loss of balance, vertigo, loss of short term memory/amnesia
- Blurred vision, loss of visual acuity
- Tinnitus/ringing in the ears, temporary hearing loss
- Pain with swallowing
- Neck pain (that radiates to shoulders or head)
- Jaw pain
- Heaviness, numbness, tingling of the extremities
- Lower back pain
- Shoulder pain
Can whiplash be prevented?
As most whiplash injuries are caused by accidents, there is not much that can be done to prevent them. There are, however, some things you can do to increase your odds of a quick recovery:
- Practice strengthening exercises to keep your neck muscles strong and limber
- At work, take regular breaks throughout the day to stretch and change positions.
While whiplash does not usually cause permanent injury, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent the risk of further damage.