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Give Your Head A Shake!

Whiplash is an injury that occurs when the head suddenly moves backwards and then forward under extreme forces. This violent movement causes the soft tissues in your neck such as the muscles and ligam...




Whiplash is an injury that occurs when the head suddenly moves backwards and then forward under extreme forces. This violent movement causes the soft tissues in your neck such as the muscles and ligaments to be stretched and strained. In most cases, people recover within four to six weeks. However, some people may develop chronic pain due to damaged ligaments, discs and joints of the neck.

The most common cause of whiplash is a rear-ended collision. The person in the front vehicle usually is at more risk of whiplash due to the fact that they are often unaware that the collision is about to occur and are unable to brace for the impact. Other less common causes of whiplash include amusement park rides and contact sports.

The symptoms of whiplash usually occur within the first week. Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. However, most people experience neck pain and stiffness, headaches and pain between the shoulder blades. Other symptoms that may occur include dizziness, ringing in the ears, blurred vision, irritability, fatigue and problems concentrating. It is very important that you consult with your doctor if you experience any of the above symptoms to rule out other more serious injuries.

Once your doctor arrives at the diagnosis of whiplash, the first line of treatment will be over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Often, these medications are sufficient to control mild to moderate cases of whiplash. However, if these medications do not work, your doctor may prescribe stronger pain relievers which contain codeine.

Muscle relaxants may also be helpful in the early stages of injury.

One of the most common questions I am asked in my office, is whether to use ice or heat on an injury. The general rule is to use ice during the first few weeks of recovery to help reduce inflammation and then use heat in the later stages to relax tight muscles. Whiplash is no exception to this rule.

In more severe cases of whiplash, your doctor may recommend other treatments such as massage, chiropractic and physical therapy. The goal of these treatments is to restore normal ranges of motion in the neck as well as strengthen injured muscles. Recent studies have shown that a combination of these therapies is most effective. However, if there is still no improvement, your doctor may suggest injections of corticosteroids into the painful areas.

This drug is designed to relieve muscles spasm and pain which in turn will allow you to move your head more freely. Interestingly, other alternative therapies such as acupuncture and electrical nerve stimulation have shown some promising results in the treatment of whiplash. Cervical collars are no longer recommended routinely. It is now known that immobilization of the neck for extended periods of time can actually impair recovery.

Unfortunately, there is no way to completely prevent whiplash. However, maintaining good flexibility and muscle strength in your neck as well as good driving habits will help to reduce your chances of getting whiplash. Until next month, drive safely!

-Dr. Christopher Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024 or csingh@cmcc.ca.


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