Whiplash is a common motor vehicle accident injury that occurs when the neck is exposed to a sudden violent force. Initial symptoms may only include muscle pain and stiffness that gradually subsides.
However, neurological effects can also occur because of trauma to the spinal nerves that run from the base of the skull to the end of the spine. Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the effects of damage or irritation of these nerves may expose themselves throughout the body rather just at the point of your motor vehicle accident injury.
What Are the Functions of the Spinal Nerves?
The nerves along the spinal cord control sensory input, motor skills related to voluntary movement of the body, and even the automatic functions of the body such as breathing and heartbeat. Nerve impulses travel along this neural pathway to the brain and back out to every component of the body.
The brain reacts to physical damage to the body by producing pain to limit activity while directing healing procedures to the affected areas. It also control the intricacies of movement throughout the body, and reacts to external stimuli by releasing chemicals to enhance or restrict both automatic and voluntary bodily functions.
What Are the Effects of Spinal Nerve Trauma in Whiplash Injuries?
Initial effects include moderate to severe pain in the neck from trauma to the muscles. Debilitating headaches may also occur because of the proximity to the injured area. Weakness and/or numbness in the arms and other parts of the upper body may result from impairment of the spinal nerves' ability to control motor skills. Dizziness or loss of mental focus can also occur.
Healing may be curtailed because of impairment of the neural pathway and its ability to direct signals from the brain to facilitate the healing process.
What Are the Treatments for Whiplash Injuries?
Milder cases of whiplash can usually be treated as any other type of muscle tears or strains. Icing of the neck muscles for the first 48 hours, followed by heat to loosen the muscles, along with limited movement or complete immobilization, will often allow the neck muscles to heal on their own.
Immobilization should be limited to the first few days to avoid stiffness and prolonged pain in these cases.
Whiplash that extends beyond a few days or shows neurological damage should be examined by a medical professional. Spinal nerves may be irritated or damaged from a misalignment of the spinal vertebra in the neck.
A chiropractor can assess the situation and manually realign the vertebra if necessary. Stiff neck muscles can also be stretched to regain movement and ameliorate pain. The chiropractor can also refer the patient for radiological scans if severe injury is suspected.
Whiplash can result in much more serious effects than neck pain, so it's important to consult with a medical professional for pain that lasts for more than a few days or is accompanied by symptoms of neurological damage.