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Whiplash 101

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A whiplash injury is a neck injury caused by a sudden jerking backward, forward (or both) of the head.  Whiplash is most commonly associated with rear-end car collisions, in which the impact suddenly forces the car occupants' heads to "snap" back and forth.  Other causes of whiplash include a sudden jerk of one or both arms, a violent blow to the head or chin, a reflex jerking of the head due to fright or a sudden loud noise, or any kind of fall that causes a forceful movement of the head and neck.  Anyone can be subjected to whiplash, even in a low-force car crash at speeds as low as 5 mph.

The sudden, violent thrust and recoil of the neck and head damages the surrounding and supporting tissues, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments.  Whiplash most commonly causes lingering (often serious) neck pain and stiffness, but there may also be back pain, headaches, blurred vision, nausea, ringing in the ears, numbness, and even dizziness.  Whiplash symptoms may or may not appear right away.  After a night's rest or even longer, you will usually experience stiffness or soreness of the neck.  Often victims are stunned immediately after an accident and do not note any of the whiplash effects.  It's possible that old whiplash injuries can be the cause of many symptoms, even years after the accident, especially if a victim does not receive proper care quickly.

Most accidents happen lightning-fast, but if you do have time to prepare, use these tips to minimize whiplash injury:

  • Put your head and neck all the way back so that you are in contact with the seat back and the properly adjusted head restraint.
  • Straight-arm the steering wheel and get a good grip.
  • If you are completely stopped, put your foot on the brake as hard as you can.
  • Look straight ahead, not in the rearview mirror.  Do not have your head turned.
  • Put your neck back slightly so your eyes are looking at about the top of the windshield.
  • Scrunch your shoulders up toward your ears and brace for impact.

A few other tips to help minimize a potential whiplash injury:

  • Before you buy your next car, compare vehicle structural design, size, weight, and restraint systems.  Small cars put you and your passengers at greater risk, so consider mass and crashworthiness.
  • Keep the head rest in UP position.  Eighty percent of cars have the head restraint adjusted in the LOW position, yet research reveals that having no head restraint is safer than having one in the LOW position.
  • Seek treatment immediately.  It is a huge advantage to a victim's recovery to begin treating the whiplash injury within two weeks after the accident.  Immediate treatment will decrease the likelihood of a painful, chronic condition.

A study in the Journal of Orthopedic Medicine revealed the superiority of chiropractic care in whiplash injuries.

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