Every year around 2 million Americans experience whiplash, most of them as a direct result of an automobile accident. When left untreated, whiplash can lead to long-term pain and stiffness that can severely impact your life. Let’s explore what happens to your neck when you get whiplash and what you can expect after a car accident.
What happens during a whiplash injury
Whiplash is a common neck injury when you’re in a rear-end collision. When your automobile is struck from behind, the force of the impact “whips” your head forward and backward rapidly — imagine the movement of Indiana Jones cracking his whip. This movement is where the injury gets its name.
As your head jerks back and forth, your neck moves abnormally. First, your neck bends forward violently, losing its natural curve. Then the bones in your lower neck extend in the opposite direction, creating an S-shape in your neck. The extension continues up your neck until all your cervical vertebrae extend. These abnormal movements stretch your muscles, connective tissue, and cervical vertebrae beyond their normal range of motion.
Early effects of whiplash
While neck pain and stiffness are the first signs of neck injuries like whiplash, often, your body releases a flood of adrenaline during an automobile accident. Adrenaline is part of your body’s fight-or-flight response and can mask pain for hours or even days after an accident. As you start to develop whiplash symptoms, you might experience:
- Neck, back, and shoulder pain
- Muscle spasm
- Can’t turn or nod your head
You might also feel fatigued or develop anxiety or memory disturbances.
In many cases, whiplash symptoms subside quickly with effective treatment — sometimes within a few days. However, without treatment, whiplash can persist. Studies estimate that between 12-50% of people with whiplash have pain that lasts for more than a year after the accident.
Long-term effects of whiplash
Severe whiplash can tear muscles and tendons or damage your cervical vertebrae. When left untreated, the lingering pain and stiffness impair your range of motion and overall quality of life. It can contribute to other issues, including:
- Chronic headaches
- Degenerative disc disease
- Long-term mobility issues
Getting treatment as soon as possible following a car accident is the most effective way to reduce your risk of long-term whiplash-related health issues.
Our team of expert physical therapists here at Logos Physical Therapy in Perth Amboy & Somerville, NJ, can diagnose and treat whiplash before you even experience symptoms. We offer customized treatment plans, including physical therapy, functional exercises, and stretches. In many cases, we recommend massage and other manual therapies to relieve muscle tension and release muscle spasm.
Getting a diagnosis and starting treatment immediately helps minimize your pain and other symptoms, as well as the overall disruption to your life. We can help you restore your strength, flexibility, and range of motion to help you avoid long-term problems.
If you’ve been in a car accident, call or make an appointment online. Our team at Logos Physical Therapy is here to help you maintain a pain-free and active life.