Whiplash and Chiropractic Care
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is an injury caused by a quick jerk, or jolt to the head, typically occurring in a motor-vehicle accident. A whiplash injury can happen twice as fast as the time it takes for the muscles in your neck to react to try and protect your neck and head.
In an auto accident, you don’t necessarily have to get hit from behind. An accident where your vehicle gets T-boned (side impact) can cause your head to be violently jerked from side to side. This can be even worse than getting hit from behind.
While whiplash injuries are commonly associated with motor-vehicles accidents, you can get whiplash from most sports including football, boxing, baseball, hockey, field hockey, volleyball, basketball, or soccer, as well as simple falls from slipping on ice, a throw rug, or wet floor. Whiplash can occur during work injuries or any other incidents that cause your head to whip back and forth or side to side.
How Does Whiplash Happen?
Like the cracking of a whip, whiplash occurs when your head is trying to catch up with the rest of your body, and actually accelerates to an even faster speed only to be yanked to an abrupt stop and flung back the other way. Whiplash action usually occurs in between 80 and 150 milliseconds, your reflexes make the neck muscles contract in about 200 milliseconds — too late to protect you.
When you’re driving your car and get hit from behind, the first part of your body to jerk forward is you upper back, leaving your neck and head behind. Then the neck starts to move forward trying to catch up with the body and actually catches and passes it. Studies have shown that during this violent action, the neck can actually deform from a proper backward facing C-shape into an S-shape. After the neck starts moving, your head starts to move. The average head weighs 8-10 pounds, so it is like a bowling ball on top of your neck getting whipped forward faster than your body, and faster than your neck. All of the sudden the forward motion is arrested, starting when the seatbelt stopped your body. However, the neck and head are still moving forward. Now they are whipped backward into the car’s headrest. As all of this is happening, your head ends up pulling the top your neck one way (flexion) while your body is pulling the bottom of your neck the other way (hyperextension).
Your brain goes through a similar trauma. The brain is floating in cerebrospinal fluid and has two densities. The inner white matter is denser than the outer grey matter. As a result of a whiplash accident, once your head starts to move forward, the brain is slower to move, banging against the back of your skull as your head moves forward, and then banging against the front of your skull when your head is jerked back. Within the brain itself, the grey and white matter can move at different speeds, and depending on the severity of the accident, the axons, which connect the grey and white matter parts and carry the neuron impulses of the brain, can get stretched and even torn. This is called diffuse axonal shearing and is a mild traumatic brain injury. This can all happen within 1/4 of a second, and you may not even get a bump on your head or be aware that you were injured.
A side to side whiplash occurs when you get T-boned from the side and instead of your head being whipped back and forth, it is whipped from side to side. The added complication here is the little joints on the side (called uncinate processes or joints of luschka) of your neck (cervical spine), which can cause a lot of nerve damage and spinal problems.
How Does Whiplash Affect the Body?
There are a lot of ways whiplash can cause harm to an individual. Depending on the severity of the accident, the effects of whiplash will be different from one individual to another. In some cases people have even initially walked away from accidents not even realizing they have been injured for days or weeks later. The initial injuries can be:
- Damage to the joints
- Herniated discs
- Mild traumatic brain injury
- Misalignments and subluxations to the spine
- Muscle injuries
- Nerve damage and inflammation
- Sprained ligaments
- Strained tendons
Depending on the type of injuries you have sustained, the healing process can vary greatly. Ligaments for example have very little blood flow so it can anywhere between 2 months to 12 months to heal, compared to a broken bone that can heal in 6 weeks – 8 weeks at most. In some cases ligaments never fully heal back to where they were before the injury. These people may end up with chronic pain because of the injury.
A strained tendon can heal wrong if not treated properly. When micro tears happen with the tendon injury, the collagen fibers are supposed to heal in a parallel fashion, but if not treated properly they can heal in a crisscross fashion, decreasing the range of motion of a joint, building scar tissue, inflammation and nerve interference.
There was a study published in the respected Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine that found that 74% of whiplash patients improve with chiropractic care, and that conventional treatment of patients with whiplash symptoms was disappointing.
As you can see, after an accident the prudent thing to do is have a chiropractor do a checkup to assess any injuries you may have received — even if you think you are fine. It is better to find you are okay or have a small problem early on, than to allow it to go untreated. If you allow the whiplash injuries to go untreated, you are looking at additional problems and degenerative diseases.
- Bone spurs
- Build up of scar tissue
- Chronic future pain
- Degenerative disc disease
- Degenerative osteoarthritis
- Herniated discs
Symptoms of Whiplash
Whiplash injuries can manifest themselves in many ways. In many cases people instantly feel the pain from their injuries, in other cases it takes the observations of family in friends to see the differences in an individual — particularly when dealing with mild traumatic brain injuries.
Here are some of the symptoms to look for.
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty with concentration/focus
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Migraine headaches
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Problems swallowing or difficulty swallowing
- Ringing in the ears
- Upper back pain and stiffness because a lot of the muscles that connect from the neck go into the upper back area
- Upper extremity (arm) radiculopathy. Pain, or numbness that runs down into your arms and fingers. This is from nerve damage to the brachial plexus (5 nerves that run out from your neck).
One of the surprising things about whiplash injuries is how often they occur during low-impact accidents. People feel often think, “I didn’t get hit that hard, how can I have whiplash?”
The answer is tied into the crush zones of your motor vehicle. During a higher speed impacts, modern cars are designed to crumple and crush in ways that direct the energy force of the accident away from the occupants of the vehicle and to absorb the impact in the crush zone. However, what happens if the impact is not hard enough to crumple the crush zone of the vehicle? The car ends up looking undamaged, or maybe has a few scratches, but ALL the energy of the impact ends up getting transferred to the vehicle occupants. It would be just like someone running into the back of your car seat instead of the rear bumper of your car. So you can see, since your neck took the major impact of the accident it is probable for you to end up with a whiplash injury. Remember, a whiplash injury can happen in half the time it takes for your neck muscles to brace themselves to try and protect you.
Kempsville Chiropractic's Treatment of Whiplash
When someone comes into our office because of a whiplash injury, we do a full and thorough consultation. It is extremely important for a whiplash patient, during the consultation, to make us aware of all the symptoms they are dealing with because of their injuries. Some symptoms like nausea, memory loss, inability to concentrate, hesitation initiating speech, and blurred vision may point to mild traumatic brain injury for which we will have to order special tests. After the consultation, we do an examination with orthopedic, neurological, physical exam tests, we get any necessary x-rays of the spine. With a whiplash injury we also do what are called flexion and extension films of the neck so we can evaluate if there is ligament damage to the neck, such as some of the bones sliding forward or backward more than they should — which is hyper-mobility of the joints due to severe ligament damage. We will also perform computerized nerve scans that look at the nerves that exit out from the spine to control your muscles and your organs.
Once all this is done, we design the best treatment plan, and obviously as chiropractors our number one focus is the chiropractic adjustment, where we very gently and effectively realign the spine and restoring proper range of motion to the joint.
As we make adjustments to the spine our goal is to realign the spine and to get the joints and bones to move properly. However, when the spine goes through a whiplash injury, not only does the spine get misaligned, but this interferes with the nerves within joints. In addition you can get micro tears in the muscles and in the ligaments with causes a sprain/strain injury where there is inflammation. So above and beyond the chiropractic adjustment, we also do things like electric muscle stimulation, heat and cold therapy, massage therapy, as well as rehabilitative exercises to strengthen and stabilize the spine, or rehabilitate the spinal muscles so that we correct the problem all the way.
Over the years one of the important things I have noticed about that people who come to see us right away after they’ve had a motor vehicle accident, is it’s easier to fix their spine and to help the soft tissues heal properly. If someone waits too long what happens to the soft tissues — ligaments, tendons, and muscle — is they actually build up scar tissue because these collagen fibers come together in a crisscross fashion and create scar tissue as oppose to getting them to heal properly in a parallel fashion.
Please contact Kempsville Chiropractic at 757.467.5258 if you are dealing with any whiplash injuries, or if you have recently been in an accident. Remember, leaving whiplash untreated will only lead to other degenerative problems in the future. If you know someone this article can help, please recommend it to your friends and family.
© 2013-2016 Kempsville Chiropractic
These articles are the property of Kempsville Chiropractic. They may not be reused without permission. You are welcome to link to this article. Kempsville Chiropractic has been proudly serving Virginia Beach, Virginia; Chesapeake, Virginia; and Norfolk, Virginia since 1996.
The contents of this website are based upon the opinions of Dr. Lombardozzi. The information on this site is not intended as medical advice. The information contained on this website is a sharing of knowledge based on the experience and research of Dr. Lombardozzi and his staff. Dr. Lombardozzi recommends that patients make their health care decisions after doing their research and consulting with a qualified health care professional.
Contact us at 757.467.5258 to set an appointment.