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Whiplash basics

Anyone who has ever operated a motor vehicle understands that becoming involved in a car accident is a risk of the roadway. While some accidents are the result of unavoidable weather complications or road conditions, some accidents are the result of negligent drivers that might be distracted or under the influence.

Regardless of the circumstances, car accidents accompanied by medical injuries can lead to significant financial duress for families that cannot afford the added expenses. One of the most common injuries in car accidents is whiplash. Understanding this injury is the first step towards finding relief.

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries sustained in car accidents. When a car is at a stop and struck from behind, people will feel their head snap backward and strike the headrest. Many times, their head will bounce off of the headrest and strike the dashboard before coming to rest. This sudden movement is due to the fact that while the body is strapped in place, the head is not. This means that the head is free to move with the sudden motion described above. This sudden motion stretches the cervical spinal ligaments and leads to the symptoms that people commonly associate with whiplash.

The symptoms of whiplash will vary widely depending on the severity of the stretching of the ligaments and the other associated injuries. Almost every patient will have general soreness and a severe headache that could last for days. Some patients might have a tingling sensation that shoots down their arms and legs if the ligaments were stretched far enough. If the head strikes the dashboard, patients could sustain a concussion that could be accompanied by fear of light and sounds along with the potential for memory loss. The symptoms will vary with each case and everyone should seek medical attention.

The diagnosis of whiplash is largely a clinical diagnosis. This means that the doctor will diagnose whiplash based on the mechanism of the injury and the associated symptoms; however, many physicians will order imaging to make sure that there isn't a more serious head injury in play. Scans such as MRI scans and a CT scan could be ordered to rule out intracranial bleeding. If this is spotted, it constitutes a medical emergency that will be operated on immediately. 

The treatment of whiplash will focus on treating the symptoms that people have. This could include medications such as ibuprofen to alleviate the pain of other medications to treat the shooting pains that often accompany the injury. If the pain is severe, the doctor could prescribe narcotics; however, every physician will start low and go slow.

The ultimate treatment of whiplash is time. Patients could find that their symptoms resolve in a few days while other people will wait months for their symptoms to resolve. Unfortunately, a few people will have residual symptoms of whiplash that could last for their entire life. Education and prevention are the best medications for whiplash.

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