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Whiplash Injury- Quick Facts & Myths

Winter is here and with it comes all the tasks of winterizing our homes and cars, but have you ever thought about winterizing your body? With the increased risk of slips and falls and motor vehicle collisions we often see a rise in whiplash type injuries during this time of year. Here is what you need to know to protect yourself this coming season:

Whiplash Quick Facts

· A whiplash injury is one of the most common types of neck injuries. Our head and neck have a large degree of range of motion; however, with this comes an inherent lack of stability. This predisposes the neck to a greater risk of injury when large forces are applied to the body, such as in a whiplash injury.

· A whiplash injury is a mechanical injury to the neck caused by the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the body. The ligaments of the neck can support an average of 45-88 lbs of force. A whiplash injury sustained in a 10-mph collision can introduce up to 160 lbs of force, thus causing injurious sprain of the ligaments and supporting structures of the neck. This is equivalent to catching a 200lb bag of cement dropped from a second storey window!

· Though whiplash injuries are common in motor vehicle collision, they can also be sustained in sports accidents, amusement park rides, and everyday slips and falls.

· Common symptoms of whiplash injuries include: neck pain, shoulder pain, jaw pain, headaches, dizziness, and numbness and tingling in the arms

Whiplash Myths

· Myth:Less damage to the vehicle means less chance of injury.

Fact:It has actually been found that less damage to the vehicle will transmit more of the energy from the collision to the occupants of the vehicle. This goes back to high school physics and the law of conservation of energy which states: ‘Energy can neither be created or destroyed, but only transferred from one form to another’. Vehicles that sustain more damage in a collision will absorb more of the energy on impact and thus less energy will be transferred to the occupants.

· Myth:Being relaxed at the time of impact reduces the chance of injury.

Fact:It takes about 200 msec for the muscles in your neck to engage in a guarding mechanism to stabilize the joints in your neck. Initial damage from a whiplash injury sustained in a motor vehicle collision occurs between 50-100 msecs – before your muscles have even had a chance to activate! This is when the ligamentous/neck sprain injury occurs. Being in a relaxed state and augment the initial injury.

· Myth:If an injury was sustained in a collision, symptoms will appear immediately.

Fact:Symptoms of a whiplash injury may appear soon following the impact or be delayed by hours up to a couple days. Whiplash soft tissue injuries can take up to 12 months to heal.

Are You Crash Proofed?

Knowing what to do before and after a collision can help protect you and reduce the risk of long-term side effects. A couple things to keep in mind include making sure your head rest is set appropriately and being aware of your surroundings to so that if you anticipate a collision you can guard yourself more effectively.

Firstly, when it comes to setting your head rest, make sure the center of the head rest is at the top of your ear and that your head sits no more than six centimeters in front of the head rest. This will help to reduce the distance your head will move during an impact.

Secondly, if you anticipate a collision will occur, make sure to sit in a neutral position with your head facing forward and push back gently into your head rest. This helps to stabilize your neck and reduce the risk of ligamentous injury.

Finally, if you have been in a collision, be sure to get assessed by a health care practitioner who understands the mechanics of a whiplash injury as soon as possible. Symptoms may have a delayed onset and early intervention is key to avoiding long term side effects.

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