Whiplash might seem like a minor inconvenience at first. Whether it’s a car accident or a sports injury, the immediate effects of whiplash might not be that obvious.
And while it’s possible to scrape through with a sore neck and shoulders for the day, the long-term effects can actually be quite serious.
Here’s what can happen if whiplash goes untreated, and some tips for early intervention.
What Is Whiplash Exactly?
Whiplash is an injury that affects the soft tissues around the neck and shoulders.
It’s caused by a sudden back and forth movement of the body, usually from a car stopping suddenly, being hit from behind, a head-on collision, or from a sports injury.
This back and forth movement has been likened to the same movement a whip makes – hence the name: whiplash. Common symptoms can include:
- Pain/spasms in the neck and/or shoulders
- Stiffness in the neck
- Difficulty moving your neck
How Do I Know If I Have Whiplash?
Whiplash can be hard to immediately identify. After an accident or sudden injury, the body usually goes into a state of shock or distress, where adrenaline kicks in and the immediate pain is masked. Our body’s reaction is useful in that moment when we need to find help, escape, or make important decisions, but it can also have detrimental consequences for anyone who leaves their symptoms unchecked.
You’ll start to recognise the symptoms usually a short time after the initial accident, perhaps on the same day or over subsequent days.
*Note: it is important to visit your physio or healthcare professional following a car accident or any other injury. Even if you think you’re fine – it’s better to be on the safe side and have an assessment.
What Happens If Whiplash Goes Untreated?
Untreated whiplash can become a serious health issue. Whether it’s after a car accident, minor sport injury, or even physical trauma – it’s important to get treatment as soon as possible.
Here are some of the long term consequences of untreated whiplash:
1. Chronic Neck Pain
Whiplash causes trauma to the neck and the surrounding region which results in inflammation. However, if not treated effectively, this can develop into chronic pain, can resurface regularly, impacting your daily routine and quality of life.
2. Mobility Issues
Mobility issues are the most common long-term side effects of untreated whiplash. The neck is extremely mobile – but car accidents and other injuries can result in inflammation and swelling, which can reduce your range of movement.
3. Headaches And Fatigue
Untreated whiplash can result in cervicogenic headaches (originating from the neck), fatigue, and general tiredness affecting the whole body. This is usually accompanied by pain radiating from the site of injury and can flare up during the weeks following the injury. If left untreated, these symptoms can worsen – and develop into chronic conditions.
4. Spinal Issues
The neck and spine are closely interrelated, so any injury to your neck will affect the spine. Whiplash is known to overstretch the C1 and C2 vertebrae, which can have implications for your posture, spinal nerves and nervous system in general.
5. Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease is a condition in which the spinal discs between the vertebrae deteriorate over time. These discs are important as they cushion the vertebrae – and allow our body to move naturally. When whiplash is left untreated, dysfunction in the muscles of the upper neck can cause unnecessary pressure on the spinal discs, which can result in:
- decreased range of motion
- nerve irritation
- increased susceptibility to injury and recurrent episodes of pain
Vertigo is a condition characterised by severe dizziness, confusion, and often a feeling of falling – even though you’re standing still. Untreated whiplash can result in episodes of vertigo and dizziness, which can put you at risk of further injury and can reduce your overall quality of life.
Can Whiplash Symptoms Get Worse Over Time?
Yes, they can. At the start, symptoms (if any) can often be muted, and often mistaken for a sore back or neck from the usual strains of life. If you’re not sure if your neck or back has been affected by some trauma, it is worth having an assessment.
Can Whiplash Symptoms Show Up Months Later?
While symptoms usually present in the days or weeks following an accident – it’s not unusual for symptoms to show up and worsen months later. Even a minor injury that is left untreated can become more obvious over time.
How Long Does It Take To Heal From Whiplash?
In mild cases, whiplash can heal itself within a matter of 6-8 weeks. More serious cases can take longer, usually up to 10 weeks. Whiplash is no ordinary injury, so you should ensure you’ve got the right recovery plan in place. With the right advice and assistance from your physio, your recovery time can be reduced and your symptoms eased.
Can You Get Permanent Damage From Whiplash?
While it is rare, it’s not impossible. If your case is severe enough and is not given proper medical care, permanent damage to fragile neck structures is possible over time. With the help of physical therapy, long-term pain and symptoms can be avoided.
Should I Visit A Physio For Whiplash?
If you have recently experienced a car accident or neck injury you may only begin to feel symptoms a few days later. If you leave these symptoms unchecked, you could develop muscle, joint and nerve problems from your ‘whiplash’ type injury down the line.
It’s worth a visit to your physio following any trauma to the neck. That way problems can be addressed early on. A professional physio for whiplash can identify and begin a treatment plan to ensure the quickest possible recovery.
Reach out today to the team here at Integrity Physio for an appointment.