While whiplash implicates the structures of the upper neck, the cervical spine may not be directly implicated. In other words, you may have sustained whiplash but may not have a cervical spine injury.
This article seeks to answer the question, “Is it whiplash or a cervical spine injury?” toward educating people about steps to take if they believe they’ve sustained a whiplash injury.
Even if you don’t believe the injury is serious, or if a recent injury hasn’t yet resulted in pain, you should be seeing a medical professional, if you suspect injury due to a whiplash event. And it’s not always a car accident. It can be a precipitous fall or any event which causes your head to snap forward and back rapidly.
Whiplash Events Demand Action
Even if you’re not suffering any pain following a recent event, you still need to see a medical professional to ensure there’s been no damage to the structures of your neck. Whiplash can take weeks or even months to manifest as pain, so regardless of the absence of pain, seeing a doctor is strongly urged.
Sometimes, by the time people experience pain after a whiplash incident, it’s been long enough to allow the injury to become worse. Believing all to be well, patients hesitate to see their doctors (even though they’ve had an accident) until the injury is well-established.
There’s also the possibility that your injury has not only resulted in whiplash, but that there has been a concurrent cervical spine injury.
Cervical Spine Injury
Cervical spine injuries fall under the rubric of Whiplash-Associated Disorders (WADs). There is a strong movement in the musculoskeletal professional community toward more precise definitions of this type of injury, due to its relative severity.
The immediate onset of neck pain following the whiplash event may indicate that there’s more than whiplash at play. Another high-risk factor for severe injury is being a person over the age of 65, especially a woman. Women’s neck muscles tend not to be as developed as men’s, making them more vulnerable to this type of injury.
In the case of car collisions, an impact from the side of the vehicle is more likely to result in severe injury, as opposed to a rear-end collision. Falls from more than 1 meter are an extremely high risk for cervical spine injury.
Patients unable to walk or sit following the event are also at high risk.
Clearly, there are certain instances of whiplash which come with a serious risk of cervical spine injury. But the only way to be sure that your injury isn’t severe and to recover quickly, is to see your caregiver as soon after the incident as possible.
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