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Whiplash

 

Whiplash is most commonly associated with motor vehicle accidents, although it can be caused by other types of injuries to the neck:

  • stepping off a curb and taking a jolt

  • sports injuries,

  • roller coasters

  • flipping long wet hair in the shower

  • flipping a welderís mask down

and other similar motions.

 

We assume that whiplash causes neck pain but other symptoms can occur:

  • back pain

  • shoulder pain

  • arm pain

  • headaches

  • numbness or tingling anyplace in the body

  • dizziness

  • nausea

  • change in sleep habits

  • depression or other emotional changes

  • anxiety

  • fatigue

  • changes in pulmonary or cardiac function

 

The reality is that, if you injure your neck, it affects your entire spine, so just about any symptom can occur. Therefore, if you experience any type of neck injury, whether it results in neck pain, it really should be checked out, and a chiropractor is a great place to start.

 

Whiplash is essentially a sprain or strain of the neck muscles and ligaments. Sprains and strains imply stretching and/or tearing to ligaments (sprains) or muscles and tendons (strains). The effect is really the same as if you had stepped into a hole and twisted your ankle. Such an incident would result in a sprain/strain of your foot, ankle and lower leg ligaments and muscles, and the usual treatment for that is the well-known ďRICEĒ formula:

Rest the injured area,

Ice the resulting swelling,

Compress the affected area with wrapping (Ace bandage) and

Elevate the injured part.

 

However, we canít do these things with an injured neck because:

 

Thereís no way to effectively way to REST an injured neck because it must hold your head up;

We can ICE it, but we certainly canít

COMPRESS it in any way

And, of course, itís already ELEVATED.

 

So how do we treat a whiplashed neck? Medical treatments, for the most part, involve taking anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants. However, the medications listed in the class of muscle relaxants that most of us could take arenít really muscle relaxants. Poisons like Curari and Botulin toxin are true muscle relaxants but you canít take them because theyíll relax ALL your muscles, including your heart and diaphragm, which would bring about some negative results.

 

The medicines usually prescribed as muscle relaxants are actually central nervous system depressants and their effect is to make you insensitive to the pain. In severe cases, narcotics and synthetic narcotics are prescribed. While these medicines will decrease pain, none of them will actually help to heal the injured muscles, ligaments and tendons. The fact is that your body will in time try to repair the damaged ligaments, muscles and tendons. However, mechanical treatments to your musculoskeletal system like chiropractic care, massage, physical therapy and rehabilitation exercises are also necessary to bring about and support an effective healing of these tissues.

 

Chiropractic care is important to this process because the injured tissues need to rest. How does this work? When these tissues are torn or stretched, the connecting joints now can move to excess. This is worsened if any of the joints adjacent to the injured joints are not moving normally in the first place. Remember that when the spine is subluxated and a joint is restricted in motion, the brain will compensate by making an adjacent jointís ligaments looser and allowing that joint to make up the expected global motion of the spine in that region.

 

If we employ chiropractic care to increase mobility in the fixated or stuck joint, the brain will then realize this and allow that joint to become a little tighter, or a little closer to normal, thereby allowing it to rest. Massage should also be employed to increase the function of the injured muscle and to help to mechanically decrease the injury to the muscle, and physical therapy, acupuncture and therapeutic exercises can work towards that goal.

 

Pain from whiplash is expected to go away long before the injury is truly healed; in fact, many references in current literature suggest that the ligaments and other soft tissues donít attain fully healed status for anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. Initially, reasonably intensive chiropractic and other supportive care need to be employed, and as your body heals over time, care is needed less often, as you would expect.