Whiplash is a term that describes injury to the neck that occurs as a result of a motor vehicle or car accident. Whiplash occurs when one motor vehicle strikes another from behind, causing certain forces to be transmitted from the striking vehicle to the struck vehicle. These forces are then transmitted to the occupant(s) of the struck vehicle, where they have the potential to cause whiplash injury.
Shortly after impact (about 150 milliseconds), the cervical spine undergoes what is called an S-shaped curve. In this configuration, the cervical spine, rather than simply being curved to the front in a normal C-shape, as it would normally be at rest, takes on an altered shape:
- The lower part of the cervical spine moves into extension (bent backward)
- The upper part of the cervical spine moves into flexion (bent forward).
When a whiplash accident occurs, the lower part of the cervical spine moves well beyond its normal range of motion, causing the potential for injury to the ligaments and discs in that area. The upper part of the cervical spine also moves beyond its normal range of motion, but to a lesser extent.
Whiplash injuries can be quite complex and may include a variety of related problems, such as:
- Joint dysfunction. As a result of the whiplash, one of the joints in the spine or limbs may lose its normal resiliency and shock absorption (referred to as the joint play), possibly leading to restricted range of movement and pain.
- Disc herniation. A whiplash accident may injure the discs between the vertebrae, lead to small tears and cause the inner core of the disc to extrude through its outer core. If the disc’s inner core comes in contact with and irritates a nearby spinal nerve root, a herniated disc occurs, with symptoms possibly including sharp, shooting pain down the arm and even neurological symptoms like numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.
- Faulty movement patterns. It is believed that the nervous system may change the way in which it controls the coordinated function of muscles as a result of a barrage of intense pain signals from the whiplash injury.
- Chronic pain. While often resulting in minor muscle sprains and strains that heal with time, more severe whiplash injuries may produce neck pain and other symptoms that are persistent and long-lasting (chronic).
- Cognitive and higher center dysfunction. In some instances, whiplash may affect the patient’s mental functioning, possibly leading to difficulties concentrating, as just one example.
Until recently, the reason for the extent of whiplash injuries was poorly understood. In addition, due to the legal and insurance issues, the veracity of complaints of neck pain and other symptoms by people who suffer from whiplash is commonly viewed as suspect.
However, recent research has helped clarify why occupants struck from behind experience more extensive whiplash injuries than those in other types of crashes. This new information is important for the physician treating whiplash pain, as it impacts the physician’s case management strategy.
The chiropractic treatment goals for cervical spine complaint management include (but are not limited to) some combination of:
- Reducing pain
- Improving motion
- Restoring function to the head and neck region
There are two general chiropractic manipulation approaches for cervical spine complaints:
- Cervical spinal manipulation – often thought of as the traditional chiropractic adjustment, or a high-velocity, low-amplitude (HVLA)technique
- Cervical spinal mobilization – which is a more gentle/less forceful adjustment, or a low-velocity, low-amplitude (LVLA) technique moving the joint through a tolerable range of motion.
The combination of the various approaches varies from patient to patient depending on the chiropractor’s preferred techniques and preferences, the patient’s comfort and preferences, and the patient’s response to the treatment, as well as both past experience and observations made during the course of treatment. Chiropractors may also use adjunctive therapy to treat cervical spine complaints. Typical adjunctive therapies may include massage, therapeutic heat and/or cold application, and gentle stretching and strengthening exercises, and more.
Patients should be advised that the application of this treatment approach only occurs after a full patient history, physical examination, review of past, family, social histories, and review of systems have been completed. Tests resulting from this process may include X-ray, CT, MRI, EMG/NCV, laboratory blood and urine analysis, referral to a specialist, and/or possibly more, depending on each individual case presentation.
Been in a car accident? Do you have pain? Please call our office at (304) 263-4927 today to schedule an appointment. For more information regarding auto accidents and chiropractic, please click here.