Cervical collar is the primary treatment of whiplash injuries. Contrary to the popular belief, a cervical collar helps only during the early phase of the injury to immobilize the neck and allow healing of the damaged tissues. Though one may find a soft cervical collar comfortable and easy to use, its the hard cervical collar that gives complete proper immobilization. Thus, one must use only a hard cervical collar and that too only for the first 72 hours after injury. Excessive use weakens the neck muscles and also reduces the blood supply of neck muscles, which delays recovery and complicates the injury. This should be followed by physical therapy to strengthen the healed soft tissues.
Before resumption of routine activities, one must undergo a repeat MRI or X-ray examination. This is to rule out any instability in the neck vertebrae. An instability of the vertebrae, which arises due to improper healing of soft tissues, like ligaments, is capable of causing severe damage during normal movements of the neck. It is this ongoing damage, that gives rise to whiplash associated disorders or whiplash syndrome, which is associated with longstanding neck pain and numbness in the hands. Moreover, this can even progress to complete paralysis of the body.
Cervical instability can occur at variable locations within the vertebrae of the neck. The higher the location of instability, the more grave is the prognosis of the disease. Though, a person may spend an entire lifetime without realizing the presence of a cervical instability, it is never worth taking such a huge risk. Treatment of instability involves fusion of the unstable vertebra to the adjacent vertebrae with the use of metal screws. This is a major surgery, and can even be life-threatening. So the diagnosis should be confirmed if possible, by taking a second opinion of an experienced orthopedist.
The neurological complications of whiplash injuries, like tingling numbness in the hands, shooting pain in the arms and neck, generally resolve after surgery, which fixes the instability. However, this can take a period of weeks to a few months. During this time one has to patiently follow the physical therapy outlined by the orthopedist. Oral analgesics and neurovitamins facilitate early recovery.
Whiplash Injury Prevention
There has been a tremendous increase in awareness regarding whiplash injuries associated with vehicular accidents. Car manufacturers have taken note of this potential threat to drivers and commuters and designed several useful variations in seats to prevent whiplash injuries or decrease its impact. This includes a vast array of headrests (Picture 1) and higher seats with neck supports, which support the neck during a collision.
Picture 1: Protective headrest
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
The pressure from the car insurance lobby, owing to the high volume of whiplash injury claims, has been of significance in bringing this revolutionary equipment to reality.
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