Over two hundred million registered drivers are out on the road each day, collectively clocking about 70 billion hours of driving each year. Car accidents as a result of all this driving are increasingly common. In 2019, almost seven million crashes were registered by police departments, and that does not include the many collisions that go unreported.
The damage to cars is one thing, but the real fear about car collisions is that they are responsible for many kinds of injuries, ranging from superficial cuts and bruises to potentially fatal injuries. It is difficult to determine the exact number of injuries from car wrecks each year, but experts agree that there are up to three million collision-related injuries a year, and that number is increasing every day.
Whiplash, a common soft tissue injury affecting many people after collisions, falls somewhere in the middle. It has the potential to cause lifelong chronic pain, but it is not fatal, and it can be treated. It is a particular risk in cases of rear-end collisions. Such crashes lead to the most severe symptoms for this condition, and whiplash sustained during a rear-end collision often causes other health problems in the future. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below and have recently been in a car crash, please set up a time to talk with your doctor.
Neck and Shoulder Pain
The main symptom of whiplash is pain, usually dull or achy, in the neck and shoulder. The pain may be more problematic in one or the other, or you may find that your neck and shoulders are in equal amounts of pain. Pain of this variety usually makes it very difficult for you to move your head, such as in the case of nodding your head “yes” or shaking your head “no.” You can try an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen. This will help with inflammation and soothe some of the pain. Applying a heating pad or ice pack to the affected areas for up to twenty minutes every few hours will also help reduce some of the pain.
The force your body undergoes during any collision, but especially a rear-end collision, can cause your head to move back and forth to a degree that overwhelms your muscles and causes strain. Part of the effect this has on your neck is to fatigue your muscles, making them stiffer and more difficult to move. It will probably be difficult for you to move your head from side to side. Stiffness is such a common issue for patients with whiplash that doctors actually measure the level of stiffness in your trapezius muscle to determine the degree of your whiplash. Using painkillers and applying heat to the affected area will help with the stiffness.
Neck pain is a known trigger for tension and migraine headaches, and the tension caused by whiplash leads to severe headaches in many patients with whiplash. Furthermore, the headaches affecting most people who have been diagnosed with whiplash tend to be prolonged, so that patients report headache symptoms for hours each day after the accident that caused the whiplash in the first place. In fact, at least 60% of whiplash patients report having headaches, and many of these patients report experiencing constant headaches for up to three weeks after the inciting incident. However, the good news is that 85% of those patients found that their constant headaches had subsided after that three-week mark.
A sense of dizziness or lightheadedness is one of the most common symptoms of whiplash and is present in at least 50% of observed whiplash cases. When this symptom is caused by physical trauma such as whiplash, it is called cervical vertigo. Cervical vertigo stems from the misalignment of your head, neck, and spine. It is an uncomfortable condition that can cause further complications, like loss of balance, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and nausea or vomiting, all due to the impact on the middle and inner ear, which control your perception of the world around you. Cervical vertigo can progress further if not treated properly, so if you are experiencing this symptom, there is a particular need for you to visit a doctor.
The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, is located in the jaw near the neck muscles and is a major part of the areas that are usually most affected by whiplash. Some patients develop a disorder related to this joint that doctors may refer to as TMD. Post-traumatic TMD, such as that developed after sustaining a whiplash injury during a rear-end collision, can have an effect on your recovery and outlook. However, many people also are unaware of any impact on their jaw until up to a year after the accident. Delayed jaw pain is an under-researched but concerning effect of whiplash that could greatly impact the prognosis for many people who experience whiplash after a car accident.
Risk Factors for Whiplash
Over two million people experience whiplash every year. While anyone is at risk for developing whiplash, especially after experiencing a rear-end collision, there are some health and lifestyle factors that can increase your likelihood of sustaining this car accident injury.
● Gender: Women are twice as likely to develop whiplash after physical trauma compared to men.
● Medical history: If you have ever experienced another neck injury or ongoing neck-related health condition, you are significantly more likely to experience symptoms of whiplash after a car accident.
● Age: After the age of 50, your muscles begin to lose some of their flexibility, which makes them more prone to injury. For this reason, the older you are, the more likely you are to walk away from a car accident with whiplash.
● Athletic participation: Due to the increased incidence of injuries to the neck, head, and shoulders, people who participate in sports are more likely to experience whiplash. This is especially true of people who play contact sports such as American football and rugby.
Whiplash is one of the most common car accident injuries in the neck and back. If you’re experiencing whiplash and need care to address it, get in touch with us now to get on the road to healing.