WHIPLASH CAUSES AND TREATMENT OPTIONS
Whiplash is a common neck injury that often results from unusual movement or strong force exerted on the neck. It most commonly happens after an auto-accident involving a rear-end collision, but it can also occur after a fall, from riding an amusement park attraction, or even an assault. The injuries range from mild to quite severe. Chronic neck pain and stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and even trouble concentrating are all symptoms associated with whiplash. Symptoms can show up immediately or may take a few days to show themselves.
Until recently, the reason for the severity of the injuries wasn’t fully understood, but advances in cervical spine research have led to new discoveries, which, in turn, have helped physicians develop more effective ways of treating whiplash, including chiropractic techniques.
Whiplash and the Cervical Spine
Using the auto-accident as an example, whiplash occurs when the force of the rear vehicle is transmitted to the forward vehicle – and the occupants inside it. This force pushes the cervical spine (the neck) out of its natural C-shape into more of an S-shaped curve. Upon impact, both the upper and the lower parts of the neck are pushed well beyond their normal positions. This causes injuries to the ligaments and the discs in the neck. These same sorts of pressure can be put on the neck when you fall, are pushed, or ride a roller-coaster. Anything that places this extreme amount of pressure in the wrong direction on your neck can result in a whiplash injury.
Whiplash injuries would actually be more common than they currently are if the neck didn’t have a built-in stabilization response. The nervous system is capable of very quickly stabilizing the cervical spine when an impact is detected. This stabilization minimizes the effects of the impact on the neck. It also explains why some people receive whiplash injuries and others don’t, even if they are in the same car at the time of the accident or why whiplash can happen even when vehicles hit at very slow speeds.
Factors Affecting Whiplash Injuries
Several things affect the severity of whiplash injuries and the cervical spine’s stabilization response. Some of these factors are within the occupant’s control and others are not. In general, the better condition the body and the nervous system are in, the better the stabilization response.
Factors that affect the severity of whiplash injuries include:
- Occupant’s posture at the moment of impact
- Occupant’s overall physical condition
- Occupant’s awareness of the coming impact
- Occupant’s gender – women are more likely to suffer whiplash injuries than men due to their smaller bone structure
SYMPTOMS INDICATING A WHIPLASH INJURY
Diagnosing a whiplash injury can be tricky since it mimics many other conditions. In many cases it is a combination of symptoms and the circumstances surrounding the appearance of the symptoms that lead to a whiplash diagnosis. Symptoms that indicate whiplash include:
- Neck tenderness and stiffness
- Blurred vision
- Severe injuries to the cervical discs, joints, nerves, or ligaments
- Radicular symptoms such as arm pain, numbness, and/or tingling present
- Frequent flare-ups even after treatment
- Age over 65
- Placement of head restraint more than 2″ from the occupant’s head
- Prior whiplash injuries or cervical spine fusion or injuries
- X-ray evidence of degenerative conditions in the neck
- Symptoms lasting 6 months or longer
Types of Whiplash Injuries
Whiplash injuries are varied and complex with many different problems presenting themselves. Some patients have several of the different types of injuries while others have only one or two.
- Joint dysfunction – Joint dysfunction is diagnosed when a joint loses its mobility and range of movement. Pain, stiffness, and tenderness are common indicators of joint dysfunction. These symptoms are due to the joint’s decreased shock absorbency and resiliency.
- Herniated disc – Whiplash can injure the discs located between the vertebrae. Small tears in these discs can cause the inner core of the disc to extrude through its outer core. When this happens there is a chance the inner core could come into contact with the spinal nerve root. The result is a herniated disc. Symptoms of herniated disc include sharp, shooting pain down the arm and, sometimes, numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.
- Loss of coordination – The nervous system is central to whiplash injuries. After an injury, the nervous system may have trouble controlling muscles resulting in a loss of coordination.
- Chronic pain – Pain is an obvious indicator of any type of injury, but whiplash injuries are different. Minor neck pain due to sprains or strains heals with time. Whiplash injuries tend to linger, becoming chronic.
- Cognitive dysfunction – Whiplash can affect cognitive function. Trouble concentrating is a common symptom. Dizziness and headaches are also indications that cognition has been affected.
Chiropractic Treatment for Whiplash
Chiropractic treatment for whiplash is dependent on the specific areas of injury, the symptoms displayed, and the overall health of the patient. After a thorough physical exam, medical history, and understanding of the accident leading to the injury, a chiropractor will develop a customized treatment plan to help relieve a patient’s pain and restore function of the cervical spine.
Techniques that have been used in the successful treatment of whiplash include:
- Spinal Manipulation – Chiropractic manipulation of the cervical spine is a primary whiplash treatment. Through manual manipulation, a chiropractor can gently move the injured joint or vertebrae back into a more natural position. This helps alleviate pressure and the resulting strain or pain associated with the joint being placed in an unnatural position. Manipulations may consist of short thrusts, deeper pressure, and/or slow mobilizing movement applied to a specific area of the cervical spine.
- Muscle Work – Chiropractors may try to relax or stimulate muscles to treat muscle dysfunction. Gentle stretches or contractions can help a muscle regain function. Trigger Point Massage is often used to target specific areas of tensed muscles and relieve pain in those areas.
- Exercise – Exercises help strengthen and stabilize the neck. Chiropractors specifically rely on McKenzie exercises to treat whiplash injuries. McKenzie exercises help to not only strengthen but also extend the spine to relieve pressure on discs and joints. Exercises usually start as in-office procedures, but eventually patients can take an active role in their own recovery by performing the exercises on their own at home. These and other stabilization exercises help correct movement patterns and re-train the nervous system to control and coordinate movement. They also help to strengthen the neck muscles, which improves their stability.
- Ergonomic changes – Since chiropractors are committed to treating the whole person and not just the injury site or symptoms, treatment often includes recommendations for lifestyle or ergonomic changes. These changes reduce repeated strain on the body, which could be exacerbating whiplash or slowing recovery.
Chiropractors are focused on helping the patient regain normal function and live a pain-free life. If the patient is not responding to treatment, the chiropractor may refer the patient to another medical specialist for alternative treatment options.
Early Intervention is Key
Early medical attention is important to developing a strong recovery from whiplash. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Many people think their neck pain is minor and is to be expected after a car accident. They wait for the pain to subside on its own and it is only when the pain does not subside, returns with increasing regularity, or becomes more severe that they first seek treatment. Treatment usually begins with a visit to their family practitioner who may do nothing more than recommend painkillers and rest. This does not help the patient’s long-term recovery from whiplash, however.
Early intervention by a chiropractor can reduce inflammation and pain and restore neck mobility, which is the only way to recover from whiplash. Joints and discs that are out of place or exerting pressure on nerves must be helped back in to their normal position to relieve this pressure and the resulting pain. Similarly, strained muscles, tendons, and ligaments must be relaxed and sometimes retrained to properly support the head in order to recover from a whiplash injury.
Such intervention makes it possible for patients to return to their normal work and home activities sooner and with less hesitancy or fear or aggravating the injury. Patients who take an active role in their whiplash recovery, such as through at-home exercises, also gain more confidence in their ability to return to their daily activities. Chiropractic treatment for whiplash blends hands-on treatment and manipulation with teaching so the patient can learn how best to recover from the injury or adapt to a lifestyle that does not aggravate the condition.
The entirety of the chiropractor’s approach to whiplash treatment is focused not only on reducing or eliminating the patient’s pain but restoring function and strengthening the neck to improve stabilization and help prevent future whiplash injuries.
Contact Pinnacle Chiropractic and Spinal Rehab Center for Whiplash Treatment
Any time you are in pain, you should see a medical practitioner. Lingering pain after an accident or activity, whether it is an auto accident, a roller-coaster or something else, is cause for concern. You do not have to resign yourself to living with chronic pain. Consultation with a chiropractor who is experienced with neck injuries and whiplash in particular can help you recover faster and more completely than taking no action at all.
Pinnacle Chiropractic and Spinal Rehab Center helps those who are exhibiting symptoms of whiplash regain mobility and improve their comfort levels using a variety of techniques. Chiropractic techniques, massage, trigger point therapy and exercises are just some of the treatment options available to you at Pinnacle Chiropractic and Spinal Rehab Center.