What is a Whiplash Injury?
Whiplash injury of the head and neck result from an extremely rapid extension and flexion that causes injuries. It’s usually caused by a sudden exaggerated thrust of the head backward, forward, and sometimes sideways.
Abnormal forces are applied to muscles, ligaments, nerves, bones, intervertebral discs, blood vessels, and eyes as the head moves beyond normal physiological limits,
Due to their complicated nature and profound impact on people’s lives, few topics in health care generate as much controversy as whiplash injuries. There may be no visible bruises or abrasions from this type of injury, yet victims report classic symptoms.
Unlike a broken bone where a simple x-ray can validate the presence of the fracture and standards of care can direct a health care professional as to the best way in which to handle the injury, whiplash injuries involve an unpredictable combination of nervous system, muscles joints and connective tissue disruption that is not simple to diagnose and can be even more of a challenge to treat.
Waiting weeks or months, or even years is the worst thing you could do to start the healing process of automobile injuries. Early intervention is paramount to getting the best results. Don’t make the mistake that your pains will go away, because more often than not, your pain will stay the same or get worse.
It is important to do everything possible to restore motion of the spine. Improving the structure will improve the function of the area.
Whiplash injuries can vary depending on the severity of the collision and also the individual affected. Also keep in mind that whiplash injuries can occur at low speeds as well as high speed impacts.
Interestingly, there is some evidence that might indicate that low speed collisions, while causing less damage to the vehicle, might lead to more injury. Additionally, pre-existing conditions are often aggravated along with the symptoms of the actual injury.
Whiplash injuries can be unique in that the beginning of certain symptoms can be several days to weeks after the accident. The range in symptoms can often be significant, including: neck and back pain, jaw pain, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and many others.
How does a whiplash injury occurs?
Let’s assume that you are stopped at a red light, patiently waiting for the light to turn green and suddenly, you hear the screech of tires followed by a sudden jolt as the car from behind collides into the back of your vehicle. By reflex, you may turn your head to the right to look in the rear-view mirror to see what is happening.
Even if you see the inevitable collision prior to the impact, the sudden jolt occurs so fast that you really don’t have a chance to adequately brace and you feel yourself being forced back into the seat and headrest followed by a rebound forwards.
Since you always wear your seat-belt, you feel the restraint across your chest and lap belts tighten as you’re propelled forward. The seat belt saves your life by stopping you from hitting the steering wheel or from being launched forward through the windshield. However, at this point of the impact, the soft tissue damage (ie. torn muscles, ligaments and tendons, compressed or ruptured nerves and discs, and bruised internal organs) has been done!
This ALL occurs in less than 500 milliseconds. You cannot voluntarily contract your muscles this fast, which means even if you had time to prepare yourself for the impact by bracing, you can’t stop the whiplash effect! (See diagram below for time sequence)
Whiplash Sequence In a recent study, it was found the muscles in the front of the neck contract first at about 100 ms, which is 25 ms too late to prevent ligament or muscle damage, and they reach their peak stretch at 150ms (see 3rd from the left picture above). The muscles in the back of the neck start contracting soon thereafter but are injured more than the muscles in the front of the neck around the 300ms point.
The reason for this is because as the head rebounds forwards, the muscles in the back of the neck are in the process of tightening up or shortening at the same time they are being stretched – (your body’s attempt to protect itself under normal forces) but NOT a good combination under the excessive G-Forces experienced during a car crash!
This is one reason why many people injured in motor vehicle collisions often complain of greater intensity of neck pain in the back of the neck than in the front of the neck.
Patients often present to our offices following a car accident with neck pain in the front, sides, and back of the neck, and in more severe cases the pain will radiate into the shoulders, arms and even to the hands and fingers, indicating injury to the deeper spinal nerves. Some patients will also have pain when swallowing due to the stretching trauma to the esophagus during the collision.
This also helps explain why headaches are common symptoms associated with whiplash as the upper 3 nerves that exit the top of the spine in the neck go into the head/scalp and are compressed or squeezed by the tight muscles in the back of the neck when they are injured which results in headaches. The spinal discs can also be injured by Whiplash, requiring proper diagnostic studies that may include MRI, Dynamic Motion EMG, and other more specific studies.
ChiroMax Wellness Centers can help?
At ChiroMax Wellness Centers, we perform a thorough examination of a possible whiplash injury which entails assessing whether a serious injury warrants hospitalization and which tissues and spinal structures have been injured.
The exam may include a cranial nerve examination, reflex and motor skill tests, and motion palpation, which assesses the spinal joints’ mobility and pain response.
Possible treatments for whiplash include:
- Muscle relaxation or stimulation, which entails gentle muscle stretches and/or finger pressure on specific sensory trigger points.
- Heat therapy
- Ice therapy
- Spinal manipulation
- Range of motion and other therapeutic exercises designed to test the stability and integrity of the neck muscles and correct unnatural movement patterns in the neck and other areas.
Consultation covers proper ergonomics, including tools used during work, as well as mattresses and pillows usage. In some cases, we recommend a device called a cervical collar, a soft cushion that envelopes the neck and keeps the weight of the head from applying undue pressure to damaged tissues during the healing process.
Most people who suffer whiplash can heal properly in two to four weeks, providing they follow the treatment regimen outlined by their chiropractor. Sever cases of whiplash involving trauma to the spine or discs may require surgery.
In-Office cervical traction is often used for whiplash injuries. Cervical traction has been shown to be effective since it keeps the neck immobile and does not put pressure on the temporomandibular joint – an area which may be involved in whiplash injuries.
Whiplash injuries are usually uncomplicated and the key to treatment is rehabilitation of the muscle and soft tissues that were damaged and the reduction of any pain If the symptoms are only neck pain and stiffness, the treatment may include analgesics for pain; prolonged use of neck braces and immobilization are generally avoided and most patients will be encouraged to continue with their regular lifestyle.
- Physical therapy: Passive (i.e. ice, heat, massage) and active therapies (exercise) is typically prescribed. Your physical therapy program is designed for you and your needs. These therapies typically involve:
- Stretching exercises
- Strengthening exercises
- Scapular (shoulder blade) stability training. The shoulder girdle provides a platform or base for your cervical spine. Proper rehabilitation starts with a good foundation
- Medications may help alleviate inflammation and severe pain.
- Anti-inflammatory medications help reduce swelling and pain
- Narcotic painkillers are prescribed to alleviate acute pain (only if absolutely necessary)
If you’ve been involved in a car accident and are suffering from neck or back pain, you may have sustained a whiplash injury. To see one of our skilled doctors and to get an initial consultation, please call us at:
(713) 691-8355 (I-45 Location) or
(713) 222-6374 (I-10 Location)
and schedule an appointment. We are dedicated to getting you out of pain and back to feeling good again. Most forms of insurance accepted.