Whiplash: What to do?

In a whiplash injury, a sudden force on the cervical spine (cervical spine) - for example, in a car accident - injuries in the neck. As a result, symptoms such as neck and headache can occur. Most whiplash requires no special treatment. To alleviate the pain, analgesics and muscle relaxants can be used. It is important not to take any restraint, otherwise long-term consequences are possible. Learn more about the causes, signs and therapy of whiplash.

Car accident as a cause

In a whiplash injury is in the cervical spine (cervical spine). Most are so-called soft tissue injuries. This means that primarily connective tissue and muscles are affected. In severe cases, injuries to the joint or broken bones may be added. It is also possible that the ligaments of the cervical vertebrae are distorted or torn, that the intervertebral discs are affected or that blood vessels rupture and bleeding into the tissue.

The cause of a whiplash injury is a sudden, severe bending and subsequent overstretching of the cervical spine. Such an injury is typical for a rear-end collision with the car. But also in sports - especially in martial arts - it can lead to a whiplash. Likewise, such injury may arise in recreational activities such as rollercoaster or bumper car driving. The decisive factor is that the acting force occurs unexpectedly, because a tense musculature would protect the neck from overstretching.

Signs of whiplash

Typical of a whiplash injury is that there is a movement restriction of the spine. This is often caused by strong tension of the muscles around the neck and neck. These tensions also make neck and headaches noticeable. Most of the first symptoms occur immediately after the triggering event. In some cases, one to two days pass before you feel the first symptoms.

In addition to head and neck pain, there may be other symptoms in a whiplash. These include sleep disorders, dizziness, sweating, blurred vision and tremors. It can also cause pain in the mouth and dysphagia. In some cases depressive moods can also occur.

to make a diagnosis

For the attending physician, it is often relatively easy to diagnose whiplash. Often it is sufficient if the patient describes the accident as well as his complaints and the doctor performs a short physical examination. In addition, imaging techniques such as X-rays - less commonly computer or magnetic resonance therapy - can be used. The latter investigations are only carried out if a heavier soft tissue injury is suspected.

In general, you should always consult a doctor if you suspect whiplash. This is especially the case with severe pain or delayed-onset symptoms. The same applies to signs such as nausea and vomiting, paralysis, loss of consciousness and memory loss. If it is suspected that nerves have been injured, a neurological examination is necessary. Among other things, the reflexes and the nerve conduction velocity are checked or an electromyogram is created.

Whiplash: Proper treatment is important

In a whiplash trauma is usually sufficient conservative treatment, surgical therapy is usually not necessary. It is important that those affected burden as little as possible. Head and neck should not be exaggerated in a slight whiplash, but kept movable. So do not take any restraint, but move carefully, but as normal as possible.

In order to relieve pain and tension after a whiplash injury, forms of therapy such as physical therapy are well suited. Also physiotherapeutic exercises can help accelerate the healing process. For severe pain, painkillers and muscle relaxants can help alleviate the discomfort. If fractures of the cervical spine are present, the neck must be immobilized for a longer period of time. Maybe in such a case, an operation is necessary.

Duration: how long ill?

How long it takes for a whiplash to heal depends on the severity of the injury. In general, a whiplash heals completely from itself within a few days to a few weeks.

If there is only a minor injury, those affected can usually resume their everyday lives directly. If, on the other hand, damage to the spine already occurred before the whiplash injury, or if there is a serious injury, this can prolong the healing process.

Chronic course is possible

In rare cases whiplash can be chronic. It is believed that psychological causes also play an important role here. In a chronic course, the patients can develop a so-called pain memory. As a result, the symptoms persist even when the actual cause has long since subsided. In order to prevent the development of a pain memory, it is important to treat pain as early as possible.

Other causes of a chronic course are:

  • The spine was already damaged before the whiplash injury, for example, by arthrosis.
  • The affected persons adopt a protective posture, which stresses the spine unilaterally and promotes tension.

Whiplash: Suffering after rear-end collision

If a whiplash injury is caused by a car accident, the injured party may sue the person responsible for the accident for pain and suffering. Decisive for the amount of compensation is the degree of injury. In general, five different degrees of severity are distinguished in a whiplash injury:

  • Severity 0: There are no injuries.
  • Severity I: There are mild symptoms, such as neck pain or a feeling of stiffness.
  • Severity II: There are additional restrictions on movement, pain in the mouth and tingling in the arms.
  • Severity III: The functioning of the neck muscles is limited, there are deformities, tears, fractures or dislocations of the cervical spine.
  • Severity IV: The fractures in the cervical spine cause paraplegia or are fatal.

In about 90 to 95 percent of all cases there is mild whiplash (grade 0-II).

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