Your neck is made up of seven bones stacked on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc between each level. Your neck is relatively flexible, so it relies on your muscles and ligaments for support. "Whiplash" describes what happens when these tissues are stretched too hard or too far, much like a rope which frays when it is stretched beyond its capacity.
Auto accidents are by far the leading cause of whiplash. Up to 83% of people involved in an accident will suffer a whiplash injury. The extent of your injury can be predicted based upon several factors. Individuals who are struck from behind in a rear-end collision generally suffer the most injury. Being struck by a larger or heavier vehicle is also known to increase your risk.
Your vehicle does not need to be visibly damaged in order for you to be injured, all that is required is for the collision to produce enough force for your neck to snap back and forth qucikly. Most modern cars have shock-absorbing bumpers that minimize damage to the vehicle, but do not always protect the driver in low-speed collisions. Rear-end impacts of less than 5 MPH routinely give rise to significant symptoms.
Symptoms can be known to start almost immediately or have a delayed onset. Initially, you may notice some soreness in the front of your neck that at times can fade quickly. Ongoing complaints often include a throbbing dull neck pain that becomes progressively sharper when you move your head. The pain is generally focused in the back of your neck but can spread to your shoulders or between your shoulder blades.
Tension headaches commonly accompany neck injuries. Dizziness and TMJ problems are also possible in some circumstances. Symptoms may increase over time and become worse if not treated properly. Rest may relieve your symptoms but often leads to stiffness.
Always be sure to tell your doctor if you are noticing any signs or symptoms of a more serious injury, including a severe or "different" headache, loss of consciousness, confusion, or "fogginess," difficulty concentrating, dizziness, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, change in vision, nausea, vomiting, numbness or tingling in your arms or face, weakness or clumsiness in your arms and hands, decreased bowel or bladder control, or fever.
Sprain/strain injuries can cause your normal healthy elastic tissue to be replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to ongoing pain and even arthritis.
Over half of those who are injured in a car accident and are experiencing whiplash will have neck pain up to a year after their initial accident. Seeking early and appropriate treatment, like the type provided in our office, is of the utmost importance. If you are riding with others, it is quite likely that they too were injured. It would be in every passenger's best interest to be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.