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Whiplash: Winter Driving Really Can Be a Pain in the Neck

Kanata Chiropractor - Whiplash

Even a slight impact can cause neck injury

With winter weather comes those messy morning commutes and dozens of fender benders across the city.

Getting a little auto body damage repaired is no big deal. Fixing your own body after a collision, on the other hand, is a different matter.

It should come as no surprise that as Chiropractors, we see an increase in the number of cases of whiplash when winter hits. It doesn’t take much to suffer a whiplash injury – an impact at as little as 10 kilometres per hour can do it.

But what is whiplash?

Whiplash is a common term used to describe a number of neck injuries that can result from a sudden impact that throws your head to the side or backwards. Vertebrae, discs, muscles, and ligaments in the neck can all be damaged.

According to research data from the Whiplash Prevention Campaign, whiplash injuries account for more than 65 per cent of all bodily injury insurance claims in Canada, and two million insurance claims each year. This is estimated to have an economic cost of more than $600 million per year, according to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, when you take into account lost work productivity, medical care, disability, sick leave, and litigation.

For most people, the damage caused by a whiplash injury may seem to cause only a few days of mild pain. In more severe cases, it can result in permanent conditions such as chronic pain, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), quadriplegia, or even death.

How do I know if I have a whiplash injury?

Neck and/or shoulder pain are the most common symptoms. But you may also suffer headaches, neck swelling, muscle spasms, numbness or tingling in your arms, nausea, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, and blurred vision. These symptoms can be immediate, or may slowly develop over several days.

So how can you prevent or reduce the severity of a whiplash injury?

Drive a vehicle with good safety features, and know how to use them. The obvious place to begin is to buy a vehicle with top-notch control systems to keep you on the road and in control, such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and traction control. Know how these systems work and how to use them effectively when road conditions are poor. And get a set of good snow tires.

Don’t forget your vehicle’s safety features, such as airbags and seat belts. The Whiplash Prevention Campaign has some great tips on how to wear belts and how to sit in your vehicle so these safety features will do the most good.

The catcher’s mitt for your head

Your headrest, or head restraint, also plays a critical role. According to Consumer reports and the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), great strides have been made in recent years to improve the effectiveness of headrests to prevent whiplash-related injuries in a crash. Be warned, however, that the IIHS rated nearly half of all headrests as poor for vehicles on the road prior to 2006.

Position your headrest so that the top of it reaches at least as high as the top of your ears. It should be no more than four inches, or 10 centimetres, from the back of your head.

Most front seat headrests are adjustable – so take the time to adjust yours. The latest thing is “active” headrests, which automatically move up and forward to catch your head in a crash. Consumer Reports warns against trusting that these will save you from a neck injury. Always take the time to ensure your headrest is optimally adjusted to you.

And bear in mind that, while front seat headrests are much improved to help prevent injury, the same often cannot be said of back seat headrests. How do find out how a vehicle rates in this regard? Check out its rear-crash rating.

Always practice good posture

Regardless of how your vehicle is designed or adjusted, posture matters. Sitting upright with good posture, with the shoulder belt properly positioned, and the lap belt seated low across your pelvis, will help to minimize the risk of injury in a collision.

A healthy neck is your best defense

A strong and healthy body can always endure, and recover from, injury and punishment better than one that is not. It’s no different with your spine and neck.

During a collision, your neck is forced into an unnatural S-shape. If you already suffer from a loss of the natural curvature in your neck that is putting strain on, or is causing damage to, your bones and soft tissues, it will likely leave you vulnerable to a more serious whiplash injury in a collision.

We can help

Chiropractors are, after all, primary care providers who specialize in spinal health – and this includes your neck. We may be able to help with many of the injuries that typically result from a whiplash injury. Depending on the severity of your condition, correction can range from weeks to months.

The best strategy to keep a healthy neck is to correct it now, before a collision ever occurs. But if you are currently dealing with the potentially devastating effects of a whiplash-type injury, consult with us today.

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