Whiplash is a non-medical term used to describe a condition that occurs when the head and neck move quickly forward and then backward or, sideways.
This sudden movement results in the normal range of motion being surpassed and causes injury to the soft tissues (discs, ligaments, and muscles) of the neck.
People usually associate whiplash with car accidents, but these injuries can also result from a slip and fall accident, sports injuries, as well as physical assaults.
This rapid movement of the neck and head not only damages the soft tissues of the neck but can also cause mild traumatic brain injuries. The symptoms associated with these injuries can be non-specific and ubiquitous. They include difficulty concentrating, or a sense of “fuzziness”.
A patient may feel excessively tired, have difficulty processing information, and be irritable as well as having difficulty walking, balancing, and coordinating. In addition, headaches can be common.
These mild brain injuries happen when the brain bounces off the inside of the skull, as the head is forced back and forth subsequent to impact. Depending on the direction and severity of impact, different parts of the brain or brainstem can be damaged.
Other common injuries involved in car accidents include the upper back, rib, and shoulder problems. This is due to the body being restricted by the shoulder belt with the rest of the body being torqued around the restraint.
Depending on the severity of the accident, any part of the body could be injured and the seriousness of these injuries can vary from mild to deadly.
Symptoms of whiplash are varied. The most common symptoms include neck pain and stiffness, headache, ringing ear noises, dizziness, fatigue, arm pain, jaw pain, arm weakness, visual disturbances, shoulder pain/stiffness, and sometimes back pain.
When these symptoms persist, anxiety, depression, stress, anger, frustration, sleep disturbance, and drug dependence can occur.
Diagnosis is based on x-ray, MRI, physical exam, and history. Treatment includes rest, ice and heat, pain management, massage, exercise, and avoiding the prolonged use of a collar.
Chiropractic care includes all of these as well as muscle release methods, mobilization, manipulation, and patient education. A speedy return to normal activity including work is important to avoid the gloomy spiral into long-term disability.
Luckily, most patients can recover from these injuries with proper treatment. It is common, however, for permanent residuals to remain due to scar tissue and altered biomechanics of the joints in the spine.
Proper management will help curtail these residuals. So what is the best path forward?
This question was examined in a study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine 1999;21(1):22-25.
In this study, the authors indicate that traditional medical treatment applied in whiplash care “is disappointing.”
The authors refer to a study that demonstrated chiropractic treatment benefitted 26 of 28 patients with chronic whiplash syndrome.
Therefore, most patients with whiplash injuries should seriously consider chiropractic treatment as their first choice of health care.
Only after you are involved in an accident do you contemplate the type of treatment you should seek. There are many choices when it comes to the treatment of whiplash injuries.
Choices vary from conventional (medical) drug-related approaches that include anti-inflammatory over the counter drugs to potentially addictive narcotic medications. On the other side of the fence, alternative or “complementary” forms of care including chiropractic, exercise, nutritionally based products such as vitamins and herbs, and others.
Determining which treatment is best can be challenging. Studies continue to show the superiority of chiropractic management for patients with whiplash injuries.
A good rule of thumb is to try something conservative first and when that does not resolve the problems, consider more invasive procedures.
This approach will help to minimize the risk of negative side effects.