Whiplash for many can occur when involved in a car accident or by any number of knocks, falls or slips and sports injuries, and can be excruciatingly painful. Many people are shocked to realise that even mild cases of whiplash can happen just by simply turning your head too fast in one direction, being knocked down, falling or even being jostled around while riding a roller coaster or other type of fast moving ride.
In a rear end collision the neck is thrown into extension. What this means is that the person is forced backwards into the car seat as the vehicle is thrust forward. This force is what causes the most damage to the soft tissue area of the neck.
After the head comes into contact with the head restraint of the car it rebounds forward forcing the neck into flexion. As the seatbelt tightens the head is inadvertently thrown forward until the chin hits the chest.
When this movement occurs many things happen in the body at once.
- The muscles and ligaments that support the spine can be stretched or torn
- The discs can bulge, tear or rupture if the damage is severe enough
- Vertebrae can lose their normal range of motion
- The spinal cord and nerve roots can become stretched and irritated.
This action of the head can lead to debilitating pain, including neck stiffness, headaches, blurred vision, nausea, vertigo or numbness and tingling. Symptoms in acute whiplash may not appear at their peak until after the body has coped with the shock of the accident, and pain sets in.
You should be examined as soon as possible after a whiplash accident, even if the symptoms do not seem too severe. This is because it can take days or weeks for symptoms to properly develop. Identifying and addressing problems early will limit pain and recovery time.
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