The sickening squeal of brakes, followed by a bone-shaking whack.
When you get in a car wreck, your head can move back and forth at an unnatural speed. The result is whiplash and it affects 1 million people in the United States.
But what if you walk away from an accident and feel fine? Can whiplash symptoms be delayed? What should you do if symptoms start sometime after the accident?
Let’s take a closer look at whiplash symptoms.
What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
Whiplash is a form of neck injury. It can damage any part of the neck, including:
- Neck muscles
- Nerve roots
The sudden, unnatural jerking caused by a car accident can do serious damage in a few milliseconds. The injury occurs in the neck, but referred pain can cause discomfort elsewhere.
The two most commonly affected parts of the neck are the cervical facet joint and cervical discs.
The cervical facet joints are positioned at the back of the spine. They contain pain-sensitive nerve endings.
The discs separate the joints and provide cushioning. When the discs are damaged, they do not cushion the joints effectively, causing pain.
Common symptoms of a whiplash injury include:
- Shoulder and upper back pain
- Lower back pain
- Numbness or pain in the hands and arms
- Neck pain/stiff neck
- Memory, anxiety, and sleep problems
Can Whiplash Symptoms be Delayed?
These symptoms show that you can’t always tell straight away if you have whiplash.
It can take 24 hours or more for the symptoms of car accident injuries to develop. It’s easy to conclude that you got away with it, only to find that you start suffering later.
This is because it takes time for the body to react to the injury. The whiplash causes microtears in the soft tissues. It can take time for the body’s inflammation response to kick in and start causing you pain.
Once the pain begins, it can continue and get worse without treatment. Sadly, both acute and chronic pain are common aftereffects of whiplash.
For this reason, prompt treatment is essential. With treatment, most cases of whiplash should be resolved within three to six months. Cases that go on longer than six months are considered chronic whiplash.
Who Is At Risk from Whiplash?
Everyone is at risk from whiplash, and it doesn’t just happen in car accidents. Sports and even mundane accidents can result in whiplash.
But older adults and those with arthritis are at higher risk of developing whiplash. Muscles, discs, and ligaments all lose flexibility as we get older. The sudden, jerking movements of whiplash thus have the potential to cause more damage.
How to Treat Delayed Whiplash Symptoms
Whatever you do, don’t just rest and hope for the best!
Rest can actually make your symptoms worse. When you rest your neck, you don’t use your muscles. This can cause them to get stiff or weaken.
The result is that the pain will get worse or continue for longer. Instead, you need to see a doctor and a chiropractor as soon as possible. Let’s learn why this is so important.
First Step: Examination and Diagnosis
Treatment of a delayed injury begins with a physical examination. Your doctor will discuss the accident and the whiplash symptoms you’re experiencing. He or she will then perform a range of tests to understand the level of damage to your neck.
This will include range of motion tests for your neck and shoulder. The doctor will be looking for any tenderness, signs of muscle weakness, and any reduction in your normal range of motion.
Scans and X-Rays
Whiplash is a soft tissue injury, so it won’t show up on an x-ray or CT scan. However, your doctor may order them to rule out other conditions, such as fractures.
An MRI scan can identify some soft tissue injuries. If you have damage to your discs or ligaments, an MRI may help your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment for Whiplash
Following a car accident, whiplash treatment focuses on reducing pain and restoring the strength and range of motion in your neck.
Your doctor will advise you on how to manage pain using medication and other at-home treatments. He or she may advise applying heat or cold to the neck every three hours.
If your pain is mild to moderate, your doctor may recommend using over-the-counter pain medication such as Tylenol and Advil. For more severe pain, you may be prescribed injections or muscle relaxants.
To restore the strength and range of motion in your neck, you need to consult a chiropractor or physical therapist.
When we’re in pain, it’s natural to try to protect the part of the body that hurts. A chiropractor can help to loosen tight muscles and joints. This can help you to relax and start moving and strengthening your neck again.
They will help you to get your spine back into proper alignment. This can help to reduce all of the symptoms that result from whiplash.
A physical therapist may use a TENS machine to treat the pain in your neck. This can provide temporary pain relief and make it easier to build strength in your neck.
They can also provide exercises you can do at home each day to strengthen your neck.
Don’t Delay Whiplash Treatment
Whiplash is a complex injury. When whiplash symptoms are delayed, it can be confusing and stressful. Seek a full diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, to avoid long-term neck damage.
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