Popular culture has given whiplash a bad name by insinuating that it’s an injury that can easily be faked (It’s not). One reason whiplash developed a reputation as a type of malingering is that symptoms don’t always manifest directly after an accident. But whiplash — no matter when symptoms occur — is very real if you’re the one who’s experiencing it.
Whenever you’re in a car or other type of accident, your best first course of action is to consult with a pain specialist, such as Ravi Panjabi, MD, at Advanced Pain Management in Castro Valley, San Ramon, and Fremont, California. When you come in for an evaluation, Dr. Panjabi conducts a thorough exam, including imaging studies, to identify injuries you may not feel yet.
Why you don’t feel whiplash
Whiplash gets its name from the back-and-forth snapping motion of a whip. When you’re in a car accident or other type of collision that exerts force on your body, your neck may thrust itself forward and back, like a whip’s snap.
Even if you don’t feel neck pain at the moment, that doesn’t mean you haven’t been injured. When you’re in any type of accident, your body tends to release endorphins as a response to the shock and stress. Endorphins make you feel good and dull your pain.
That’s why you can’t trust the way you feel directly after an accident. Even if you don’t have any obvious cuts or bruises on the outside of your body, your internal soft tissues could be injured.
Whiplash jostles your brain
The back-and-forth motion that your neck makes during whiplash throws your head forward and backward with great force, too. Inside your skull, your brain also moves. In fact, your brain may move with such force that you actually bruise it, a condition called a concussion.
You may associate a concussion with losing consciousness. However, you can get a concussion and still remain conscious. Or, you may have lost consciousness for such a short time that you didn’t even notice. The symptoms of a concussion include:
- Feeling confused, hazy, or groggy
- Feeling “not quite right”
- Feeling depressed or down
- Having trouble remembering or focusing
- Pressure in the head
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sensitivity to noise or light
If you suffered a concussion during whiplash, you might be so out of it that you don’t even notice other symptoms. You might also exhibit changes to your behavior or mood that someone closest to you can see, even though you don’t recognize them yourself.
Whiplash may take months to manifest
The aftermath of an accident can be confusing and tumultuous. You may be dealing with insurance claims, minor or major injuries, and emotional trauma, too.
Gradually, though, you may start to notice symptoms that could indicate you suffered from whiplash. In addition to the symptoms of a concussion, be alert to changes such as:
- Neck pain
- Popping or crunching in neck
- Ringing in your ears (i.e., tinnitus)
- Shoulder, arm, or hand pain
- Jaw pain
- Trouble opening or closing your jaw
- Trouble speaking
Another symptom that your car accident created more of an effect than you realized is having nightmares about the crash, or having sensations of impending doom or dread. Car accidents and other types of trauma may trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Whiplash gets worse
Even though you may not have noticed the effects of whiplash for days, weeks, or months, your symptoms could worsen if not treated. You may have stretched or torn key ligaments, tendons, or muscles in your neck or shoulders. Over time, you may have trouble moving your neck or develop chronic pain.
After Dr. Panjabi conducts a thorough physical exam and takes images of your head and neck, he customizes a treatment plan. Depending on the extent of your injuries, he may simply recommend lifestyle changes, such as rest or physical therapy.
He may also prescribe other treatments, including medications, painkillers, and regenerative medicine. The aim of therapy is to heal any injuries to prevent long-term complications and chronic pain.
Don’t shrug off a minor car accident or other type of collision, fall, or trauma. Call our office nearest you today, or use our online booking tool today to book a complete physical evaluation for possible whiplash-related injuries that might lead to chronic pain if not caught and treated in time.