Whiplash is a traumatic hyperextension and hyperflexion injury that’s often suffered by victims of motor vehicle collisions. For most people, it resolves in six to eight weeks, but for others, it can be a chronic and permanent neuropathic disability.
The mechanics of a whiplash injury
A hyperextension and hyperflexion injury occurs in an instant. Vehicle occupants rarely have time to prepare for the impact. In a rear-end impact, the driver’s car seat is pushed into his or her lower and middle back. The lower part of the driver’s neck is pushed forward. The normal lordotic curve of the driver’s neck is straightened from this movement, and then the driver’s head is snapped back into the seat’s headrest. All of this occurs in less than a second.
In a collision involving a whiplash injury, there can be damage to muscles, tendons, ligaments spinal discs and even bones. In serious cases, nerve fibers can be damaged, and that can result in nerves sending faulty signals to other body areas at or near the site of the damaged nerve fibers. That’s called neuropathic pain. Common symptoms of neuropathy are shooting pain, burning pain, tingling and numbness.
Some whiplash victims experience highly unusual neuropathic symptoms in the form of hypersensitivity. Simple touching or light pressure against the skin can result in pain. These individuals usually experience constant and permanent shooting and burning neuropathic pain. Hypersensitive victims even react to a tissue being run on or near an affected area. Although other victims might have a permanent whiplash injury, they don’t experience the hypersensitivity that a minority of permanent whiplash injury victims do.
Symptoms of chronic whiplash injuries
Symptoms might occur immediately, or they might take a day or two to manifest themselves. Common whiplash symptoms include but aren’t limited to:
- Neck pain, stiffness and limited range of motion
- Headaches that are primarily located at the base of the skull
- Blurred vision
- Constant fatigue
Chronic whiplash victims can suffer other less common significant symptoms too. Those can include:
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Tinnitus (ringing of the ears)
- Hypersensitivity to tactile stimulation in a localized area
Predicting chronic whiplash injuries
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a form of radiological diagnostic testing that’s often used on people who have suffered whiplash injuries. Muscular changes have now been discovered for those classified with chronic pain. Clinically significant amounts of fat will enter the muscles of chronically affected victims within a few weeks of their date of injury. That fat infiltration indicates rapid loss of muscle tissue, and it appears to be the body’s response to an injury. These findings aren’t shown in a routine MRI though. Partial spinal cord injuries are suspected.
Treatment of chronic whiplash injuries
Over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs and drugs that have yet to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration are being used to treat chronic whiplash injuries. A large segment of whiplash injury sufferers are treated successfully with chiropractic care, physical therapy and other modes of treatment other than by medication alone.
Consider the possible sources of the problem. Those are likely the spinal cord and spinal nerves that are affected in any number of ways from an impact. Medication only deadens pain and partially relaxes muscles that will spasm again in a matter of hours. There might be more effective modes of treatment available for chronic whiplash injuries. Enhanced diagnostics are here for victims of chronic whiplash injuries, and with them will be an improved understanding of the nature and extent of the injury and how to treat them.