The most effective treatment for whiplash injuries is a combination of chiropractic care, rehabilitation of the soft tissues and taking care of yourself at home.
The term “whiplash” was first used in 1928 to define an injury mechanism of sudden hyperextension followed by an immediate hyperflexion of the neck that results in damage to the muscles, ligaments and tendons – especially those that support the head. Whiplash injuries are complicated in nature and can have a serious impact on peoples lives, and there are few topics in healthcare that create as much controversy. When a patient has a possible broken bone, a simple x-ray can confirm the presence of the fracture and basic standards of care direct the healthcare professional as to the best way to treat the injury. Whiplash injuries have an unpredictable combination of muscle, joint, and nervous tissue disruption that is not as simple to diagnose and is just as difficult to treat. Understanding the mechanics of what happens to the body during a whiplash injury is essential to truly understanding the nature of these injuries and how they should be treated.
The Four Stages of Whiplash Injuries
In a rear-end car collision, the body goes through an extremely rapid and intense acceleration and deceleration. In fact, all four stages of whiplash injuries occur in less than one-half of a second! At each phase, there is a different force acting on the body that contributes to the overall injury, and with such a sudden and forceful movement, damage to the vertebrae, nerves, discs, muscles, and ligaments of your neck and spine can be substantial.
During this first stage of a whiplash injury, your car begins to be pushed out from under you, causing your mid-back to be flattened against the back of your seat. Resulting in an upward force in your cervical spine, compressing your discs and joints. As your seat back begins to accelerate your torso forward, your head moves backward, creating a shearing force in your neck. If your head restraint is properly adjusted, the distance your head travels backward is limited. However, most of the damage to the spine will occur before your head reaches your head restraint. Studies have shown that head restraints only reduce the risk of injury by 11-20%.
During stage two, your torso has reached peak acceleration – 1.5 to 2 times that of your vehicle itself – but your head has not yet begun to accelerate forward and continues to move rearward. An abnormal S-curve develops in your cervical spine as your seat back recoils forward, much like a springboard, adding to the forward acceleration of the torso. Unfortunately, this forward seat back recoil occurs while your head is still moving backward, resulting in a shearing force in the neck that is one of the more damaging aspects of a whiplash injury. Many of the bone, joint, nerve, disc and TMJ injuries that I see clinically occur during this phase.
During the third stage, your torso is now descending back down in your seat and your head and neck are at their peak forward acceleration. At the same time, your car is slowing down. If you released the pressure on your brake pedal during the first phases of the collision, it will likely be reapplied during this phase. Reapplication of the brake causes your car to slow down even quicker and increases the severity of the flexion injury of your neck. As you move forward in your seat, any slack in your seat belt and shoulder harness is taken up.
This is probably the most damaging stage of the phenomenon whiplash injuries. In this fourth phase, your torso is stopped by your seat belt and shoulder restraint and your head is free to move forward unimpeded. This results in a violent forward-bending motion of your neck, straining the muscles and ligaments, tearing fibers in the spinal discs, and forcing vertebrae out of their normal position. Your spinal cord and nerve roots get stretched and irritated, and your brain can strike the inside of your skull causing a mild to moderate brain injury. If you are not properly restrained by your seat harness, you may suffer a concussion, or more severe brain injury, from striking the steering wheel or windshield.
This video illustrates the phases of whiplash injuries. CLICK HERE
Injuries Resulting from Whiplash Trauma
Whiplash injuries can manifest in a wide variety of ways, including neck pain, headaches, fatigue, upper back and shoulder pain, cognitive changes and low back pain. Due to the fact that numerous factors play into the overall whiplash trauma, such as direction of impact, speed of the vehicles involved, as well as sex, age and physical condition, it is impossible to predict the pattern of symptoms that each individual will suffer. Additionally, whiplash symptoms commonly have a delayed onset, often taking weeks or months to present. There are, however, a number of conditions that are very common among those who have suffered from whiplash trauma.
If you think you are suffering from symptoms from whiplash injuries it is important to contact your chiropractor as soon as possible, they will be able to do an examination and make sure you are getting the proper care to prevent any long term injuries or disability. To make an appointment for Dr Tompkins Chiropractic call 541-647-2797.