The Trouble with Whiplash!

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A mild whiplash injury may take hours, weeks or even months before the symptoms are detected.

The term “whiplash” is most often used to describe a type of neck injury that occurs when a person is involved in an automobile accident. In a typical example, the victim is usually relaxed and not expecting a collision when suddenly the car is struck from behind. The rapid forward movement created by the impact results in the hyperextension of the neck (see figure A) as the head quickly snaps backwards. This causes the muscles and ligaments at the front of the neck to stretch, and sometimes tear. After the initial impact, the head is thrust forward by a reflex contraction of these same muscles, aided by the sudden deceleration of the automobile. This results in the hyperflexion of the neck (see figure B). The entire sequence, with the neck first hyperextending then hyperflexing, is referred to as “whiplash” because of its similarity to the cracking of a whip. The severity of the impact will usually displace one or more of the vertebrae of the neck which make up the cervical spine. These misalignments as well as the injured supporting muscles and ligaments, if left uncorrected, can later cause a variety of health problems.

Even when there is no immediate discomfort, most experts agree that people involved in a moving vehicle accident will suffer some form of whiplash injury. Recent studies have shown that a healthy neck can with stand a forward snapping motion of 50 times the force of gravity before producing a serious injury. However, in the case of a sudden backward motion, the neck can only tolerate a force 5 times that of gravity. The impact of a collision from an automobile traveling at only 5 miles per hour is enough to cause a whiplash injury. Although automobile accidents account for the majority of cases of whiplash, it is important to note that the condition can also result from other, less dramatic mishaps such as a bad fall or a sudden blow to the neck area.

Many people who become victims of whiplash are unaware of the seriousness of their injury at the time of the incident. While severe cases can usually be identified immediately after a mishap, a mild whiplash injury may take hours, weeks or even months before the symptoms are detected. Every day, people walk away from accidents believing they are not seriously hurt because they did not break any bones or lose any blood. To make matters worse, they are often told by emergency room physicians that the pain and stiffness in the neck “will go away … it just takes time”. In most cases, whiplash pain that was evident at the time of the injury does slowly dissipate, although the spinal misalignments have not been corrected. Therein lie some of the hidden dangers.

There are many reasons why a whiplash injury can be quite traumatic. The vertebrae in the neck are held together by ligaments, tendons and muscles, which cushion and protect the spine. A sudden jolt will cause this tissue to stretch or possibly tear. Depending on the severity of the injury, the cervical spine may become significantly less stable. Victims have been known to experience the curious sensation of a “wobbly neck” soon after a whiplash-type injury. The tearing of the ligaments and the trauma to the cervical spine will often result in significant spinal misalignments, called subluxations. These subluxations irritate the nerves or nerve roots as they exit the spine and reach out to other parts of the body. While the subluxation can cause immediate soreness, stiffness and restricted motion, it may take some time before the irritation of the nerves caused by the misalignment becomes severe enough to produce the symptoms associated with a whiplash injury. These include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, and swelling, tingling or numbness in the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. Because the lower cervical spine also supplies nerve energy to the upper chest area, interference may also cause heart palpitations and shortness of breath. These subluxations, if left undetected and uncorrected, will result in degenerative disc changes to the neck region as well as arthritis.

After any incident in which your neck (or cervical spine) may have been injured, even if the symptoms are not immediately apparent, it is essential that you have an examination by someone who is trained to examine the spine and related structures. As Doctors of Chiropractic, we understands the dynamics of the whiplash injury and is specially skilled in treating such conditions. Remember that whiplash injuries respond best to chiropractic care when correction is initiated immediately after the incident. Prompt attention to this type of injury can help to avoid many of the problems which could develop at a later date.

New Update!!!   If you, or someone close to you, have been hurt in a car accident then you need to click on this link (click here).