Commonly associated with automobile accidents and injuries, whiplash occurs when the neck experiences a sudden impact that causes it to move in an abnormal manner. Whiplash is the most commonly covered claim by car insurance companies, as millions of Americans report whiplash or whiplash-related injuries annually.
While whiplash is commonly regarded as an injury caused by automobile accidents, it can occur in almost any activity that leaves open the possibility of a neck injury. It can occur in accidents involving any type of vehicle or transportation, from bicycles to roller skates, so long as the force is strong enough to snap a person’s head in a motion that is not consistent with the direction of travel. Whiplash can occur during contact in a tackle football game, on a rollercoaster, or even at a music concert with a raucous crowd. The exact physical cause of whiplash isn’t certain, however it is believed to be caused by a stretching of the spine when the opposing force causes the distortion on the neck.
The majority of whiplash injuries are caused in automobile accidents that occur between speeds of 6 and 12 miles per hour. People with degenerative diseases and pre-existing health conditions are also more susceptible to whiplash than others. Other influencing factors include: age, size of vehicle, position of headrest, position of head at point of impact, gender and use of safety features.
In cases of whiplash, the symptoms often depend on the severity of the cause of the injury. For instance, if a minor car accident caused the whiplash, then the symptoms may not even surface at all. However, a more intense accident could lead to lingering effects, sometimes for months, or in cases of severe whiplash the effects could be permanent.
Basic symptoms include headaches, stiffness and mild pain in the neck, back and extremities. As the severity of the accident rises, the victim could feel greater tenderness in the neck and back, as well as a decrease or slowness in the victim’s range of motion. In more serious accidents, the whiplash can lead to extreme pain in the head, neck and extremities, as well as stiffness, tenderness, or even the immobilization of the neck. These are typically signs that there is extenuating damage to the neck or spine, including fractures or dislocation.
Nearly 50 percent of people who are diagnosed with whiplash have reported still feeling the symptoms at 12 weeks, and almost 25 percent of victims report symptoms at six months. Typically, in minor cases of whiplash, it can take up to two months before the symptoms will disappear. Approximately 22 percent of victims still report lingering effects between one and two years after the accident. Most physicians contend that people experiencing whiplash will likely require long-term medical treatment. Because more and more cases of whiplash are being reported annually in the U.S., it is difficult to keep an accurate track of statistics, however at least 10 percent of whiplash cases result in permanent disability.
For minor instances of whiplash, the best course of immediate action is to wrap an ice pack in a towel and apply it to the victim’s neck. Rest is essential, as well, with the victim resting on a standard pillow while lying down with the ice pack still applied. The cold treatment will keep swelling and inflammation down, thus reducing the possibility for additional pain and stiffness. Medical professionals will also likely prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, painkillers, antibiotics and antidepressants to help suppress the pain and swelling. In more severe cases, a neck brace or cervical collar will be required for wear for anywhere from two weeks to months, depending on the damage to the range of mobility. Stretching and mild rehab exercises will also be required.
With severe cases of whiplash, medical attention will be required as long as symptoms persist. This can mean years of physician appointments and checkups.
There is no scientific way of determining how a person’s head and neck will react to a collision, so the best way to prepare and prevent for an automobile collision is to utilize your automobile’s safety features, including making sure all worn seatbelts tight and that headrests are set to a proper supportive level for each passenger. For athletic competition and any other non-automobile situations, awareness and proper safety equipment are the best measures of prevention.
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