Whiplash is one of the most misunderstood mechanisms of injury, leaving most people confused or unaware of the severity is has caused. So, what is whiplash? Whiplash is a mechanism of injury causing cervical strain and sprain injury to the cervical spine. It often occurs as a result of the muscles and other soft tissues being hyper-extended or hyper-flexed.
Most cases of whiplash are most commonly and notoriously caused by automobile accidents. During the front-end or rear-end collision, the force of the vehicle being struck or striking another object can be so powerful that it causes the neck muscles, ligaments and tendons to twist and turn with an unnatural force. The tissues that are twisted can then become torn and in some cases, permanently damaged. If the whiplash mechanism of injury is extreme, the vertebral discs in the cervical spine can bulge, tear and rupture.
The whiplash mechanism of injury may also occur during falls, sporting activities and various events that cause rapid flexion and extension motions of the neck. A whiplash mechanism injury causes a cervical strain and/or sprain injury which is the actual diagnosis. A sprain involves damage to ligaments and tendons, whereas strain involves damage to muscles. A cervical strain/sprain of the neck can be a serious injury that can produce life-long consequences. This type of injury may lead to abnormal joint motion and position of the neck vertebrae as well as scar tissue of the muscles and tendons. Additionally, restricted neck motion, intervertebral disc degeneration, chronic neck pain and headaches are often part of the sequela.
There are many symptoms to be aware of if you, or someone you know, feels like they have a whiplash injury. These symptoms might include:
- Blurred vision or dizziness
- General stiffness
- Ear ringing
- Headaches (especially behind the eyes)
- Numbness or burning in the neck, jaw, face and/or shoulders
- Swallowing difficulty
- Sharp pains when moving an extremity
Whiplash, being a common and potentially serious injury, should be treated immediately by a chiropractic professional. An examination conducted by a chiropractor will assess the severity of the whiplash injury, what tissues and spinal structures have been injured and, assess whether the patient should be hospitalized. This examination may include, but is not limited to, a cranial nerve examination, reflex and motor skills tests and motion palpation. Once the exam has been administered and the chiropractor is aware of the severity of the injury, there are several treatments that can be applied to help the whiplash recovery.
Listed below are descriptions of some of the chiropractic treatments that may be used to treat the individual based on their specific whiplash injury. These include ice therapy, heat therapy and range of motion exercises and treatments.
When it comes to pain that is temporary and a result of something such as whiplash, usually the pain can be reduced or even avoided by a simple application of ice. Ice therapy is used to reduce inflammation, which, if not administered promptly, allows the source of the pain to continue doing damage to the muscles, ligaments and tendons. In the case of whiplash, ice massage or cryotherapy is effectively used to treat many kinds of injuries, including those associated with back or neck pain. The benefits of ice massage include:
- Assisting the body to minimize tissue damage
- Mitigating muscle spasms
- Reducing or eliminating pain by numbing sore soft tissue areas
While ice therapy is used to reduce swelling, heat therapy is used to relax the muscles and stimulate circulation. Heat therapy, which includes using heating packs, wraps, therapeutic ultrasounds and warm gel packs, is commonly used for patients who have chronic or long-lasting pain. In reference to a whiplash injury, heat therapy can be used to:
- Dilate the blood vessels of the affected muscles, allowing them to relax and begin healing
- Lower discomfort by reducing the amount of pain signals going to the brain
- Increase the ability of your muscles to easily flex and stretch, thereby decreasing stiffness
Exercise therapy is a form of chiropractic treatment that can be used to help patients manage their pain, rehabilitate soft tissue and restore normal range of motion and function to the affected area. In the case of whiplash, patients would use motion exercises to promote healing and prevent further damage to the body’s musculoskeletal system. These exercises are designed to test the stability and integrity of the neck muscles and correct any unnatural movement patterns that may be occurring in the neck or other areas.
Other treatments for whiplash include muscle relaxation or stimulation, which entails gentle muscle stretches and/or finger pressure on the specific sensory trigger points, as well treatments such as spinal manipulation. Some people who have a whiplash injury, might need to supplement their chiropractic treatment with a device called a cervical collar, which is 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. Other methods if necessary, may employ a cervical traction device, which keeps the neck immobile. Most people who suffer from a whiplash injury can heal properly in two to four weeks, providing they follow the treatment regimen outlined by their chiropractor. Severe cases of whiplash, involving trauma to the spine or discs, may require surgery.
Here at Auburn Chiropractic Associates, we offer a non-invasive and proactive approach to diagnosing and relieving a number of neuromusculoskeletal problems, including joint pain, back pain, neck pain and headaches. We are committed to educating our patients not only about their injuries and treatment plans but also about the preventative measures that patients can use to manage their overall well-being. If you have experienced whiplash, or any other type of musculoskeletal injury, please contact us at 334-826-2225 to arrange an appointment.