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What is Whiplash?

man with neck pain after a car accidentIf you have neck pain, you may wonder if it is due to whiplash. But what is whiplash, and how is it treated? As a chiropractor in the Chesapeake region of Virginia for more than 20 years, I have successfully treated many patients with whiplash. In this article, I will discuss the causes and symptoms of whiplash, as well as the best treatments for the condition.

What Causes Whiplash?

Whiplash occurs when something rapidly forces your neck and head backward and then forward. When the force is applied to the cervical spine in your neck, the neck’s natural C-shape briefly becomes an unnatural S-shape. This has the potential to harm intervertebral discs, facet joints, and other tissues inside your neck.

Many situations can cause whiplash. These include:

  • Car accidents where you have been rear-ended. This is the most common cause of whiplash.
  • Assault
  • Bungee jumping
  • Rollercoasters
  • Contact sports
  • Falls
  • Any high-impact activity

Medically, whiplash is known as cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) syndrome. A whiplash injury when a car is rear-ended often occur in several distinct stages:

  1. The car is hit from behind and propelled forward. At this point, your torso begins to accelerate forward.
  2. The seat back is pushed into your body. This makes the natural curve of your spine straighten, compress and ramp upward.
  3. Your spine is subjected to shearing forces, which push one part of your spine in one direction, and another part of your spine in the opposite direction. Specifically, your spine, head, and neck go backward as the car moves forward.
  4. Your head and neck either hit a restraint or extend backward beyond their normal range of motion. Following this, your head and neck whip forward.
  5. Your torso drops back into the seat, which compresses your spine.
  6. Your seat belt slows the motion of your head and neck, but this causes shearing forces. These forces can impact the brain stem, spinal cord, nerve roots and ligaments of the spine.

Front-end collisions cause a similar effect as read-end collisions. However, in front-end collisions, your head and neck at first move forward and then extend backwards.

You can also get whiplash when your car is T-boned. When you are hit from the side, your head flexes in the direction of the impact. This causes the neural canal in your spine to pinch and causes a shearing effect on the neural sheath on the opposite side of your head and neck.

What Are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Whiplash symptoms can vary depending on the person and the severity of the condition. For this reason, two people with whiplash may have vastly different symptoms despite having the same diagnosis. Further, some people may experience mild symptoms, while others may have extreme pain. Many whiplash symptoms are due to sprains or strains in the neck’s ligaments and muscles and can include:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Reduced range of motion
  • Problems holding your head up
  • Shoulder pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Headache
  • Radiating tingling, weakness, or numbness in your upper extremities

What is the Timeline for Whiplash Injuries?

The timeframe for whiplash injuries can vary. Some people may start to experience symptoms immediately following an injury, while others may have their symptom onset within the first 24 hours. Although most people with whiplash will recover within a few months, others may have lingering pain for much longer – even years. Seeking early treatment for whiplash is key because early treatment tends to work better than delayed treatment.

Some risk factors exist that can predispose you to a longer recovery from a whiplash injury. These include:

  • Older age: As we age, the neck muscles can become weaker. Further, connective tissue like tendons and ligaments may not be as stretchy as in a younger person, which increases the risk of a whiplash injury.
  • Preexisting neck problems: Those with preexisting neck problems like arthritis or neck pain may be at higher risk of a whiplash injury.
  • Sex: Women may be at higher risk than men for experiencing a whiplash injury.
  • Seat belt use: Those who do not use a seat belt are at a higher risk for whiplash injuries from car accidents than those who do use a seatbelt.

However, in some cases, whiplash injuries can be long standing, or even permanent. One study showed that up to 40% of neck complaints may persist for at least a year.

How Is Whiplash Treated?

Whiplash can be treated in different ways, such as:

  • Chiropractic care: A chiropractor can both diagnose and treat your whiplash. A chiropractic adjustment after whiplash can both reduce pain and increase the range of motion in your neck, improving your quality of life while you recover. Sometimes, your chiropractor might recommend additional interventions to help manage your whiplash, including physical therapy, massage, or acupuncture.
  • Rest: While staying immobile is not recommended, it can be a good idea to take it easy for a few days following the injury. Although neck braces used to be common treatments for whiplash injuries, they are no longer typically used because they can cause the neck muscles to further weaken, hampering your recovery.
  • Ice and heat: Applying ice immediately after a whiplash injury can reduce pain and swelling in the neck. Later, applying heat can also enhance the healing process.
  • Over-the-counter medications: Analgesics like Tylenol or ibuprofen can help treat the pain from whiplash injuries. However, it is important to first check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to take these medications. In some cases, prescription medications or even injections may be recommended instead of over-the-counter options.

Treating your Whiplash at Precision Spinal Care

As a certified NUCCA chiropractor and spine management physician, I make sure to evaluate the root cause and contributing factors of your whiplash before coming up with a treatment plan. I have extensive experience treating patients with whiplash at Precision Spinal Care. This clinical experience, in addition to my advanced chiropractic training, helps qualify me to treat your pain and help you recover from your accident.

To accomplish this, during your first visit, I will do a thorough examination of your spine. Afterwards, I will go over my evaluation with you in detail. Together, we will set reasonable expectations and milestones for recovery and further evaluation. We will also put together a treatment plan that meets your care needs. I will reevaluate you to make sure you are meeting your goals.

My experience and expertise in spinal biomechanics allow me to competently and safely address your back issues. I am a trauma and hospital-qualified spine management physician. I have credentials in MRI spine interpretation, spinal biomechanical engineering, and orthopedic testing through the Academy of Chiropractic. I am also a fellow in Spinal Biomechanics and Trauma which is recognized through the SUNY Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine.

If I find that chiropractic care is not the best solution to suit your needs, I will recommend the type of specialist who is most appropriate for you. Further, if other specialists can help complement your recovery, I will include a recommendation for them in my whiplash care plan.

We understand that you need to explore all your options when you look for expert treatment. At Precision Spinal Care, we are happy to help you determine the best way to address your specific needs and discuss all your options.

Call our office at (757) 382-5555 to speak to the doctor or set up a consultation. You can also set up an appointment online.

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