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How long does whiplash last?

Whiplash is one of the highest injuries reported to insurance companies as to date. To some people afflicted with the condition, the symptoms they experience are acute or resolve in less than six months or in relatively shorter period of time (a week or so). But to the less fortunate, they are plagued with chronic pain and other accompanying physical and psychological manifestations.

Whiplash Defined

The term whiplash injury has been coined from the way a whip strikes. It coils first and swiftly extends — much like how the neck flexes and quickly extends forward during a vehicle collision. The head and neck “whip” forward, abnormally extending the ligaments causing mild to severe injuries.

The Diagnosis

Initially, a quick assessment must be done on the patient’s body to rule out spinal injury then cervical collar must be placed to provide support. Immediately after the accident, the patient must be rushed to the nearest hospital or clinic an assessment by the physician. There are three procedures used to diagnose whiplash injury:

  1. Normal x-ray — the patient should undergo x-ray in order to visualize the structures in the neck. However, there are times that no alterations can be seen in these methods even when symptoms are present. These situations call for a different method of diagnostic.
  2. Dynamic x-ray — this is different from the normal x-ray which is taken with the head in mid-line position. Dynamic x-ray is taken with the neck bent backward and forward. This is to extend and expose the ligaments and other structures in the neck.
  3. Magnetic resonance imaging — this is the most expensive of the three methods but nevertheless, the one that provides higher definition and visualization. Note however that people with any metal devices implanted in their body are not allowed to undergo this procedure.

Management of Symptoms

The signs and symptoms are usually felt within the first 20 hours after the accidents. The most common symptoms of whiplash injury are headaches and neck and shoulder pain and stiffness. Others report that the pain extends to their jaw, arms and all the way to their back. Some also experience ringing in their ears, called tinnitus. These mild symptoms can be addressed by applying cold compress in the neck and taking pain relievers. These mild symptoms disappear in a week of treatment. However, some people experience more extensive injuries and the more serious complications.

Whiplash-associated disorders include stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug dependency and even isolation. The recurrent pain experienced by the patients tends to make them addicted to pain relievers causing further problems. Note how a simple neck injury can lead to such serious conditions.

These severe symptoms are addressed by pain management and physical therapy. Pain can be relieved through warm and cold packs and controlled use of pharmacologic agents. Physical therapy, which includes therapeutic massage and the employment of range-of-motion (ROM) exercises, are said to hasten recovery from whiplash injury. Adherence to the treatment regimen promises better prognosis for all patients with whiplash injury.

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