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The Dangers of Delayed Whiplash: How Worse Does It Get?

The Dangers of Delayed Whiplash: How Worse Does It Get?

There’s nothing fun about a car accident. Even minor accidents can cause problems, especially in the neck area. Unfortunately, whiplash symptoms don’t always show up right away. When whiplash symptoms don’t occur right away, it’s called delayed whiplash. And, depending on its severity, it can be dangerous.

Whiplash symptoms can show up anywhere from 24 hours to several months after the initial accident. This is because the body’s reaction to a traumatic event can mask the symptoms. Usually, symptoms, such as pain, stiffness, headache, and anxiety, appear within 24 hours, but this is not always the case.

Can Whiplash Symptoms Be Delayed?

As we mentioned above, whiplash symptoms can be delayed. In many instances, symptoms don’t appear until about 24 hours after the traumatic event occurred. However, there are some instances of whiplash symptoms being delayed for up to 6-months. Whether these symptoms are immediate or delayed, they’re usually the same:

  1. Headaches starting at the base of the skull
  2. Neck pain and stiffness, limiting normal movement
  3. Dizziness
  4. Constantly feeling tired or low-energy
  5. Blurred vision
  6. Depression and anxiety
  7. Trouble concentrating
  8. Trouble sleeping
  9. Irritability
  10. Chronic pain

If you experience any of the following, seek medical treatment right away:

  1. You experience weakness in the arms
  2. The pain in your neck spreads to your shoulders and arms
  3. Unbearable pain
  4. Loss of vision

What Can Cause Delayed Whiplash?

Most commonly, whiplash is caused by car accidents. Even a low-speed fender-bender can cause delayed whiplash symptoms if your head is snapped forward and back quickly.

Many people think that only rear-end car accidents can cause whiplash. While that’s certainly the most common cause, it’s not the whole truth. Rear-end, front-end, and side collisions can cause the whiplash symptoms above. And they can all cause delayed whiplash, too.

Any time the neck is snapped quickly in any direction, it can cause whiplash. 

With that in mind, here are some less common causes for whiplash:

  • Amusement park rides
  • Blows to the head
  • Contact sports
  • Physical abuse
  • Certain kinds of falls where the head is snapped around
  • Cycling, skating, skiing, or snowboarding accidents

Can Whiplash Symptoms Get Worse Over Time?

It can be hard to determine whether you should seek medical care if you don’t feel any pain or other symptoms after the car accident or other cause of whiplash. A headache is a common whiplash symptom, but this alone isn’t enough for people to seek medical attention.

Unfortunately, whiplash symptoms can get worse over time. Whiplash can even cause more serious problems in the neck area, like small fractures, ruptured discs, or pinched nerves.

What Happens to Untreated Whiplash Symptoms?

Whiplash symptoms can get worse over time when they’re not treated. This is why it’s important to seek some form of medical care after a car accident or another type of accident that could cause whiplash. When you undergo treatment, you’ll be able to determine whether any serious issues occurred and how best to deal with any pain you may start to feel in the days or weeks ahead.

Treatments like chiropractic care have been shown to be effective at treating chronic whiplash, which can happen when the initial injury goes untreated. While cases of chronic whiplash are rare, they do happen on occasion, even if the injury wasn’t considered severe.

Medical professionals can use X-Rays, MRIs, or CT scans to determine the extent of the injury and what exactly needs to be done to prevent the symptoms from getting worse, and which treatment options are best.

Delayed Whiplash Treatment Options

The thinking used to be that wearing a neck brace immediately following a whiplash injury was the best course of action. Today, doctors aren’t so sure. The thinking is that some deliberate movement of the neck and head can be very beneficial for the healing process, although it may be painful.

But there’s a fine line between good movement and bad movement. If the pain is unbearable it may be necessary to wear a brace. But, if you’re in that much pain, you should definitely seek medical care right away.

1) Home Remedies

While it’s always a good idea to seek medical care for potential whiplash, it’s not always feasible. So, here are some home remedies to try for mild cases of whiplash.

  • Ice and Heat
    • Ice and heat can be used throughout the day to help with stiffness and pain.
    • Ice is great for relieving pain when used at 15-minute intervals and with a cloth between the ice pack and the skin.
    • Heat packs are great for soothing the area, loosening up the muscles, and promoting healing.
  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs
    • Chances are you have some Advil or Ibuprofen around that you can take for pain and inflammation relief. These work well to help the symptoms, but shouldn’t be the only thing you do. Remember to only take the correct amount or less every day.
  • Ginger
    • Ginger tea is great for those suffering nausea and dizziness due to whiplash. It also had anti-inflammatory properties.
    • Other helpful supplements include green tea, turmeric curcumin, fish oil, and sage.
  • CBD Oil or Ointment
    • CBD is available pretty much everywhere. It can help relieve pain and relax muscles.
  • Stretching
    • Gentle stretches from side to side and front to back can help the healing process and serve to loosen the neck muscles. But if they’re causing you too much pain, stop them!

2) Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care can treat whiplash effectively using a number of different techniques. Chiropractors can perform tests to determine the extent of the injuries and determine what type of treatment you need.

  • Reduce Inflammation and Relieve Pain
    • Modalities like heat, ice, ultrasound, laser therapy can help to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Spinal Adjustments
    • If the spine is misaligned, your chiropractor may decide to perform spinal adjustments. This can help relieve pain from pinched nerves, bulging discs, and strained muscles.
  • Chiropractic Massage
    • Massage can help kickstart the healing process by promoting blood flow, loosening muscles, and flushing toxins from the area. This is a common practice in whiplash cases.

3Physical Therapy

Physical therapists can help you treat whiplash by focusing on the muscles in the affected area. They can help by teaching you stretches and exercises to stretch and strengthen any strained muscles in the neck area. They may also use pain relief techniques such as heat and ice therapy, ultrasound, or laser therapy.

Sleeping With Whiplash

Sleeping With Whiplash

Although treatment options like chiropractic care can help you heal from your delayed whiplash injury, it’s not uncommon for people to have trouble sleeping during the healing process. So, here are a couple of ideas to help you sleep soundly while dealing with whiplash.

a) Try Different Pillows

    • Your regular pillow may not work well for sleeping when you have whiplash. Try pillows of different firmness to determine which one helps the pain subside so you can rest.

bTry Different Beds

      • You don’t have to purchase a brand new bed for whiplash, but people find relief in different ways. Try sleeping in the recliner or on the couch if it feels better. Sleep is essential for healing from delayed whiplash injuries.

cNeck Support

    • If you don’t find relief with different pillows, you could try rolling up a towel and putting it underneath your neck for support. Many people find that this helps during the healing process.

dChamomile or Melatonin

    • Chamomile tea 30 minutes before bed is a great way to help your muscles relax and get your body ready for sleep. No more than one or two cups before bed should do the trick.
    • Like chamomile, melatonin is a natural sleep supplement that you can get at any supermarket or drugstore. 3 milligrams about 20 minutes before bed can help you relax, fall asleep, and stay asleep.

How Long Does it Take for Whiplash to Heal?

For most people, whiplash heals fully within 3 months. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take only a couple of days to heal or a couple of weeks. Seeking treatment right away is the best path to healing. You can avoid prolonged discomfort, pain, headaches, and dizziness when you seek medical care and follow their instructions for recovery.

Resources:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6937181/
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1355297X.1999.11719898
https://europepmc.org/article/med/7706955
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3476583/

Dr. Brent Wells - Anchorage Chiropractor
About the Author

Dr. Brent Wells, D.C.

Dr. Brent Wells has been a trusted chiropractor since moving his family from Oregon to Alaska back in 1998 and founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab – B.S. from Univ. of Nevada, Doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, volunteer for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation, and member of the American Chiropractic Association. As a chiropractor his focus is on family, including his 3 children and wife of 20+ years, his clinics, and ongoing education.