Whiplash might seem like an extreme injury, but it’s more common than you may think. When ligaments or other soft tissue in the neck are quickly hyperextended, it can tear the bands that connect muscles and bones — this is known as whiplash. It usually occurs as a result of a rear impact while in a stationary position, such as in a car accident or on an amusement park ride.
Your neck is one of the most vital parts of the body. Connecting your spine and head, it serves as a nerve center for signals to travel from your brain to every muscle, limb and organ. The bones at the base of the skull, known as the cervical spine, sit on the vertebrae. The vertebrae are connected by ligaments and supported by muscles. The spinal cord then runs through the hollow column of the spine.
A whiplash injury can damage the bone structure and soft tissue in the cervical spine. While it’s not typically a life-threatening injury, it could lead to more severe conditions if left untreated. You might experience partial disability, making physical therapy and other pain management necessary to recover. “Whiplash associated disorders,” which refer to the more chronic cases that stem from the injury, include depression, long-term headaches, anxiety, drug dependency, post-traumatic stress syndrome and insomnia.
Though whiplash can occur very suddenly and unexpectedly, there are ways to avoid a dangerous situation. Adjust your car seat and make sure the head rest is level, positioned between your ears and the top of your head at least three inches away. In order to prevent any surprise brake checks, don’t drive too close to the car ahead of you. Additionally, exercising your neck might help in the event of an accident, as you’ll have stronger muscles to support unexpected lurching.
Recovering from whiplash can be painful, but by educating yourself on what to do if it occurs, you are more likely to avoid injury. Check out the accompanying infographic on how to identify, treat and prevent whiplash.
Infographic created by Capital Auto Auction, a Philadelphia auto auction company
Author bio: Reid Zaritsky is Senior Vice President of Capital Auto Auction, a family-run business since 1988 that focuses on finding the right vehicles for families of all sizes. Zaritsky has been with the company since 2009, and has a background in science and engineering.