If your head snapped back and forth during a car accident, you might have whiplash. You’ll likely notice symptoms such as a tightening of your shoulders and neck, muscle spasms, pain, and headaches. Your range of motion could be decreased as well. You want to get back to normal as soon as possible, so you’re ready to go to the doctor. Which doctor should you visit, though? Three different medical specialists might be part of your treatment plan.
When most people think of whiplash, they imagine getting it from a car accident. In reality, this is just one of several ways that you can get whiplash, although it is the most common cause. Whiplash can also occur from other traumas, including falls.
Before getting into what causes whiplash, you need to understand what it is. Whiplash is an injury to the neck that occurs due to a quick neck movement back and forth, similar to the motion of cracking a whip.
Some people refer to whiplash as a neck strain or sprain. While whiplash is a type of neck strain or sprain, it is important to note that all sprains or strains are not whiplash. Luckily, most people with whiplash feel better within several weeks with treatment. There are exceptions, however, and some people may have long-lasting complications like pain.
The most common cause of whiplash is a car accident, specifically a rear-end collision.
Contact sports can also bring about whiplash, such as in the case of sports-related collisions, like tackles in football. Karate and boxing can also cause whiplash.
Falling in certain positions can also lead to whiplash. The key here is that the fall must involve the head violently jerking back to cause whiplash.
Whiplash can also occur if a heavy object hits the head, leading to the required neck motion.
Even certain sports that are non-contact can cause whiplash, including cycling accidents and horseback riding. The shared element of both sports is movement at a faster-than-average speed.
Whiplash can also occur as a result of abuse or assault. Specifically, if you are shaken or punched, you may experience whiplash. This is among the injuries that those suffering from shaken baby syndrome deal with.
If you have experienced any of the above potential causes of whiplash, then you should be aware of the symptoms of the condition, so you know what to look out for.
Whiplash’s symptoms typically develop within 24 hours of the injury or at least within a few days. The most common symptoms include neck stiffness and pain that worsen with movement, loss of neck motion, headaches, numbness or tingling in the arms, dizziness, fatigue, and pain or tenderness in the arms, upper back, or shoulder.
Less common but possible symptoms include blurred vision, irritability, problems sleeping, the ringing of the ears, memory problems, concentration problems, and depression. Some people do not experience whiplash symptoms until weeks or months after an accident, so it is important to see your doctor following an accident.
Some people have chronic pain with whiplash. This seems to be more likely in the case of severe neck pain, pain in the arms, or even more limited movement right after the injury.
Treatment for whiplash starts with icing the area to reduce swelling and pain and taking painkillers. Your doctor may also suggest using a neck collar or brace or applying moist heat, but only if you have already iced for several days. Whiplash can also benefit from other treatments, like orthopedic, physical therapy, and chiropractic care.
You can begin treatment by visiting an orthopedic doctor after a car accident. During the exam, you will go over your symptoms, and then the doctor will evaluate your neck and shoulders for signs of whiplash.
The orthopedist will check your range of motion, degree of pain, and more. Then, the doctor might order diagnostic tests to make sure that another problem isn’t causing your symptoms. These tests can include X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs.
After reviewing the tests, the doctor will create a treatment plan. Your plan might include medication and bracing. You also might need to see a physical therapist or chiropractor for additional treatment.
If your symptoms are getting in the way of your daily activities, you can begin physical therapy. Your therapist will use active and passive treatments to manage your symptoms and help you recover. If you’re in a lot of pain, your physical therapist might only use passive treatments such as deep tissue massage, hot and cold therapies, and ultrasound at first. Then, when your pain is under control, you can move onto active treatments to help you improve your range of motion and increase your strength.
Your physical therapist will also likely send you home with exercises for you to do between appointments.
You also might need to visit a chiropractor as part of your whiplash treatment plan. A chiropractor offers some of the same passive techniques, such as an ultrasound, to reduce inflammation.
However, your chiropractor also uses additional treatment strategies, including spinal manipulation, instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy, and trigger point therapy. This, combined with physical therapy, can help you move past the pain and restore your range of motion. Also, because chiropractors treat the entire body instead of just the injury, you should feel better overall when you finish treatment.
Whiplash can be a very painful condition, and sometimes, the pain gets worse without treatment. If you are tired of dealing with the pain and other symptoms, seek treatment for whiplash. Begin by going to an orthopedic doctor.
Your doctor will create a customized plan that might include medication, a cervical collar, physical therapy, and chiropractic treatments.
With the right treatment plan, your symptoms should begin to dissipate quickly. Then, after a few weeks or months, you’ll likely be completely free of symptoms and able to resume normal activities without any issues. Then, you can finally move past your accident and your injuries.
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