It’s estimated that more than two million Americans sustain a whiplash injury each year. Despite the prevalence of the condition, the general population doesn’t know much about it. Here are five important things everyone should know about whiplash.
1) Whiplash isn’t only caused by car accidents. Although motor vehicle collisions are the most common and well-studied mechanism for whiplash, this type of injury can occur any time there is a sudden acceleration and deceleration of the neck. Other whiplash causes include falls, sport collisions, and physical altercations.
2) The force of the impact is less important than the forces applied to the cervical spine and tissues. Studies have shown that the forces that can cause whiplash can occur at speeds as low as 5-10 mph (8.04-16.09 km/h). This is due to plastic vs. elastic deformity. That is, the LESS vehicular damage (think “plastic” breaking absorbs energy), the GREATER the forces are transferred to the contents within the vehicle (think “elastic” or bounce).
3) Whiplash injury risk increases with age. Older individuals tend to have less movement in the neck largely because of wear and tear on the disks in the cervical spine (osteoarthritis). A less flexible neck appears to be more prone to injury during the back-and-forth whiplash process.
4) You may not feel pain immediately after a crash as symptoms often will not manifest for hours, days, and sometimes even weeks. Don’t ignore injury warning signs. Experts in the field recommend an early evaluation to detect potential trauma BEFORE symptoms are apparent. Simple tests can often reveal abnormal findings. Studies show that the treatments that promote movement and enhance mobility—such as chiropractic spinal manipulation and mobilization—performed EARLY ON help to speed recovery.
5) Rest is NOT best! The MOST important “take-home” message that can be gleaned from this article is RESUME NORMAL ACTIVITIES ASAP! Although it may seem intuitively wise to rest after a whiplash injury, this approach can quickly cause the muscles to atrophy or shrink and weaken as fast as only 24 hours of bed rest. This can lead to fear of movement and reinjury, which can prolong recovery.
Doctors of chiropractic utilize physical techniques that help to restore motion, which minimizes pain and promotes recovery, an approach that falls in line with treatment guidelines for whiplash care.
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