You are likely familiar with the term whiplash, but what does it actually mean? Whiplash is both the motion that occurs during a car accident or other impact, where your body moves swiftly back and forth, and the condition that results from this incident. Whiplash as a condition is a collection of symptoms brought on by tears and strains in the soft tissue surrounding your neck after this unnatural, violent movement.
Neck pain and stiffness, headaches, or loss of range of motion are all common symptoms of whiplash. These symptoms are commonly differentiated from the action of whiplash as Whiplash Associated Disorders. You may hear your whiplash chiropractor use this term to describe your injuries, so it is important to understand what this means.
What Causes Whiplash and Whiplash Associated Disorders?
The most common cause of whiplash is a car accident, though it can also occur during a fall, sports injury, or another event. In a car accident, being hit from behind is the most likely cause of whiplash, though it can occur in any type of collision. The force of the impact passes from the other vehicle into your car before being passed on to the driver and passengers. This energy causes you to move forward quickly, and then snap back. If you are wearing a seatbelt, this is primarily happening in your head and neck. This speed and movement is not natural for the cervical spine and it may stretch the surrounding tissues beyond their capacity, leading to injury.
What Are Signs of Whiplash Associated Disorder?
For most people, the primary sign of whiplash associated disorder is pain and stiffness in the neck as a result of damage to the tissues in that area. Depending on the speed and angle of your accident, other symptoms of whiplash associated disorder may appear and range in severity. A whiplash chiropractor may use a grading scale to determine the severity of your whiplash associated disorder:
- Grade 0: No complaints of neck pain or physical signs of damage.
- Grade 1: Neck pain, stiffness, or tenderness with no physical signs.
- Grade 2: Neck complaints and musculoskeletal indications.
- Grade 3: Neck complaints and neurological signs.
- Grade 4: Neck complaints with apparent fracture or dislocation.
These presentations can include a range of other symptoms, including headaches, trouble balancing concentration and memory problems, sleep disturbances, ringing in the ears, mood changes, dizziness, and nausea. Any of these issues can constitute whiplash associated disorder when they are connected to a rapid acceleration-deceleration movement of the cervical spine.
Diagnosing Whiplash Associated Disorder
The first part of getting diagnosed with whiplash associated disorder is an inciting incident, such as a car crash, where the physical action of whiplash occurred. When you visit a whiplash chiropractor, this is the first thing they will ask you about before diagnosing you with whiplash associated disorder. They will likely also ask for your medical history and perform simple physical evaluations to determine what grade you may be in. In most cases, this can be done without the use of diagnostic imaging tests, but they may be necessary as you start to get to Grade 3 or 4, or if it is necessary to rule out other injuries.
You may be simply diagnosed as having “whiplash” by your provider. This is a common way to refer to whiplash associated disorder and means the same thing in terms of diagnosis and treatment.
Treatment for Whiplash Associated Disorder
Most cases of whiplash associated disorder are able to be resolved with rest, home pain management, and simple physical therapy and chiropractic treatment. Rarely are invasive methods like surgery needed.
Physical therapy usually focuses on strength training and body mechanics. This allows the muscles that hold the head up to regain the strength needed to heal and maintain proper posture. By also focusing on the relationship between the head, neck, upper body, and lower back, future injuries can be prevented and range of motion may even reach pre-injury levels. These methods may be supplemented by pain management methods like over-the-counter medication, rest, massage, or heat and ice therapy.
If you may have experienced whiplash or believe you are suffering from whiplash associated disorder, it is important to seek treatment rather than hoping it resolves. A whiplash chiropractor at AICA Atlanta can rule out any other serious injuries and create a symptom management plan that will address your specific recovery needs. Even if you are not yet experiencing symptoms but have recently been in an accident, contact AICA Atlanta today to begin the process of diagnosis and treatment and prevent future complications.