Whiplash Injuries and Chiropractic Care

Whiplash injuries are caused by a quick jerk, or jolt to the head, typically during a vehicle accident. A whiplash injury can happen in half the time it takes for the muscles in your neck to react to try and protect your neck and head. Whiplash injuries can happen when your neck gets whipped to and fro or side to side. An accident where your car 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.

Lady with a sore neck from auto accidentIn addition to motor-vehicles accidents, you can get whiplash from most sports including baseball, basketball, boxing, field hockey, football, hockey, soccer, or volleyball, as well as falls from slipping on ice, a throw rug, or wet floor. Whiplash injuries can happen during work injuries or any other incidents, such as assaults, that cause your head to whip to and fro, or side to side.

How Whiplash Causes Injuries

Whiplash injuries occur when the head tries to catch up with your body, and actually gets accelerated to an even faster speed — only to be abruptly yanked to a stop and flung back the other way. This is very similar to the cracking of a whip. Whiplash action usually occurs in between 80 and 150 milliseconds, faster than your reflexes can protect you since the neck muscles take about 200 milliseconds to contract.

When you’re in a motor vehicle and get hit from behind, the first part of your body to move forward is your upper back, leaving your neck and head behind. Then as the neck starts to move forward, trying to catch up with the body, the neck catches up to and passes your body. Your head is the last part of your body to move. Since the average head weighs 8-10 pounds, it is like a bowling ball poised on top of your neck that gets whipped forward faster than your body and your neck. When the forward motion is suddenly halted, such as the seatbelt stopping your body, your neck and head are still moving forward. Then, just as quickly as they were pulled forward, your head and neck are suddenly whipped backward into the car’s headrest.

This whiplash action causes your body to pull the bottom of your neck one way (hyperextension) while your head is pulling your neck in the opposite direction (flexion). Whiplash has been known to change the curvature of your neck from a proper backward facing C-shape into an S-shape, which will require chiropractic care to correct.

A side to side whiplash injury affects the neck differently. During a side to side whiplash, the accident can cause spinal problems and nerve damage when the little joints on the side of your cervical spine (neck), called joints of luck or uncinate processes), become damaged.

Whiplash Can Also Cause Brain Trauma

Inside your skull, your brain also gets thrown around during a whiplash injury. Your brain floats inside a dual-density cerebrospinal fluid. The outer grey matter is not as dense as the inner white matter. During a whiplash injury, not only can your brain bang against the insides of your skull, but the gray and white matter can travel at different speeds causing additional damage. If the whiplash action is violent enough, the axons, which content the white and gray matter portions of your brain, can become stretched or torn. This causes a mild traumatic brain injury known as diffuse axonal shearing. It is possible to get a diffuse axonal brain injury without even getting a bump on your head, and often people are not initially aware of their injury.

Injuries Sustained in a Whiplash Accident

Whiplash injuries will vary from individual to individual depending on the severity of the injury and the physical condition of the individual. Sometimes whiplash injuries are apparent immediately, but in different cases, individuals have gone days or weeks before the severity of their injuries became apparent. This is particularly true in low-impact whiplash where the severity of the accident seemed to be so slight that people have trouble believing they could have gotten whiplash.

The initial whiplash injuries can result in:

  • Concussions
  • Damage to the joints & spinal bones
  • Herniated discs, disc bulges
  • Inflammation of soft tissue and nerves
  • Mild traumatic brain injury
  • Misalignment (subluxation) of the spine
  • Muscle injuries
  • Pinched or damaged nerves
  • Sprained ligaments
  • Strained tendons

Symptoms of Whiplash

Man with head injury from auto accidentWhiplash symptoms will vary due to the severity of the injuries. Often, individuals will instantly feel the pain from their injuries, while in other cases it may take monitoring by others to notice the differences in an individual — especially if there have been mild traumatic brain injuries.

Whiplash symptoms to look for:

  • Pain when turning your head
  • Problems swallowing or difficulty swallowing
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty with concentration/focus
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches and/or Migraine headaches
  • Nausea
  • Neck pain and stiffness
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • 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.

Chiropractic Treatment of Whiplash Injuries

The Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine published a study that showed that 74% of whiplash patients improve with chiropractic care and that conventional treatment of patients with whiplash symptoms was disappointing.

At Tuckahoe Family Chiropractic, whiplash injuries receive a thorough exam and medical consultation. During the consultation, it is important for a whiplash patient to make us aware of any symptoms they are dealing with because of their injuries. 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.

The exam will include orthopedic, neurological, physical exam tests, and any necessary x-rays of the spine. To evaluate any ligament damage to the neck, we will do flexion and extension films of the neck. We will also use computerized nerve scans that look at the nerves that exit out from the spine to control your muscles and your organs.

We will then design the best treatment plan for your injuries. This can include spinal adjustments, heat and cold therapy, graston technique, and rehabilitative exercises.

We strongly encourage you to get a chiropractic checkup after any potential whiplash injury. Allowing an injury to go untreated will only create additional problems such as:

• Bone spurs
• Build up of scar tissue
• Chronic future pain
• Degenerative disc disease
• Degenerative osteoarthritis
• Herniated discs

Call Tuckahoe Family Chiropractic at 804-740-3434, or use our convenient appointment form, if you have recently been in an accident or are dealing with any whiplash injuries. Leaving whiplash injuries untreated will lead to degenerative problems in the future. If you know someone this article can help, please recommend it to your friends and family.

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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.