There are two main parts to a whiplash injury that lead to neck pain.
The cervical extension mechanism, and the cervical flexion mechanism. When you are rear-ended in a car, your body is propelled forward by the force of the accident. Part one, your head will lag behind, forcing your neck into a traumatic extended position. Part two occurs as your head catches up to the rest of your body. It is propelled forward, causing a traumatic flexed position of the neck.
With two traumas in quick succession, your neck bears the significant load and will likely sustain an injury. When a mild whiplash injury occurs, we can expect to see muscular strains as well as ligamentous sprains throughout the cervical spine and even into your upper back. Initially, after an accident, the injured muscles will often go into spasm. This is your body’s protective mechanism to support the injured cervical spine. Ligament sprains and muscle strains are considered to be a mild whiplash injury. However, without the proper treatment, they can linger for extended periods.
Cervical Disc Herniations can develop from whiplash
In some cases, more severe injuries in the neck can occur with cervical whiplash, such as cervical disc herniations. When we sustain a disc injury, it can cause several other issues. Depending on the severity of the disc herniation, it may only cause local pain and loss of range of motion. However, if it is more severe, it can impact nerves in your neck. When a nerve is irritated by a disc injury, pain can develop along the nerve pathway, down your arm, and into your hand. In severe cases that involve the nerve, you can develop numbness and muscle weakness anywhere in the upper extremity.
Brain injuries can also stem from cervical whiplash
Often when cervical whiplash is discussed, the focus is on the neck injury, but we can also sustain head injuries that result from the same motion. Head injuries can range anywhere from mild cervicogenic headaches (neck generated headaches) to a concussion.
Headaches can develop for many different reasons after an accident. Many times, they are the result of the cervical spine muscle spasm and strain. When the cervical spine is injured, pain may travel upwards, resulting in headaches. This is one of the most important reasons to seek out care for your whiplash injury. If a headache is stemming from your neck injury, it tends to respond very well to treatment. Manual therapy and muscle work on the cervical spine can help relieve the spasming muscle, and the headache may subside shortly after. At Health Fit Chiropractic in Boca Raton Florida we are able to render these services. We also provide you with take-home stretches and exercises that can be implemented when your pain flairs up.
Concussions can also occur from whiplash
Finally, some patients that are involved in rear-end accidents may sustain a concussion. These can occur without ever hitting your head. When you sustain a whiplash injury, the violent flexion-extension injury your neck sustains will also impact your brain. As your neck moves backward, your brain will slide into the back of your skull. As your neck moves forward, your brain will also follow and slide into the front of your skull. These impacts can cause bruising on the brain. There are many symptoms associated with concussions, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, and memory loss, to name a few. Concussions should always be monitored and evaluated by a medical professional as their severity can vary dramatically.
Car Accidents and Chronic Neck Pain
A big reason why car accident victims develop chronic neck pain is that they do not seek proper care. They often feel as though the pain will resolve on its own. In many cases, without knowing, patients are continually re-injuring their neck. This delays recovery. This can occur by sleeping with poor pillow posture or can be a result of sitting and staring at a phone or computer. These positions put excessive stress on the cervical musculature and can chronically aggravate the injury.
All car accidents are traumatic, even the minor ones. One thing that most people do not consider is the level of injury that can be sustained in even very slow car accidents (think parking lot accidents.) The forces that your body sustains are often not well represented by the damage to your vehicle. This is why it is always important to seek medical attention even after minor accidents to ensure you did not suffer any further injuries. Studies have shown that even accidents that occur at 10 mph can create enough force to injure a person. Remember, when you have two vehicles weighing over a ton, each colliding, they produce far more force than you realize.
Car accident victims are often unaware that there can be a delayed onset of injuries. In many cases, soft tissue injuries do not present themselves at the moment of collision. The delayed pain from these injuries can be attributed to multiple factors. At the moment of collision, your body will release significant adrenaline or go into shock. This is your body’s natural response to crisis, allowing you to take appropriate action in times of crisis, but it also subdues your pain levels. Many individuals have no idea the significance of their injuries immediately after an accident and need several hours to a couple of days for the pain to set in.
The other reason for the delayed onset of injuries is due to the development of inflammation. The inflammatory response of the body can take some time to set in fully. This chemical response is designed to help the body recover from injury, but it is also associated with increased pain levels.
When you are involved in any car accident, big or small, you must receive a proper medical evaluation. This will help you understand the severity of the injuries you sustained and allow you to receive appropriate treatment. If left untreated, many of these “mild” injuries can develop into chronic problems and impact your life for years to come. Remember, it is far easier to treat a new injury and have complete resolution than to try and work through chronic pain years down the road.