Whiplash Injuries and Chiropractic Care

What is a Whiplash Injury?

A Whiplash injury is caused by a swift jerk or jolt to the head, commonly occurring in a car accident. A whiplash injury can happen in half the time it takes for the muscles in your neck to react and try to protect your neck and head.

During an auto accident, you don’t have to get hit from behind. A T-bone (side impact) accident can cause your head to be violently jerked from side to side, which can sometimes be worse than getting hit from behind.

Although whiplash injuries are commonly correlated with motor-vehicles accidents, it is possible to get a whiplash injury from most sports including football, soccer, baseball, boxing, hockey, field hockey, lacrosse, or basketball, in addition to simple falls from slipping on ice, a throw rug, or wet floor. Whiplash can occur during work injuries or any other incidents that cause your head to whip back and forth or side to side.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Symptoms of whiplash injuries can reveal themselves in various ways. Often individuals will experience pain instantly from their injury, but other times — especially with mild traumatic brain injuries — it involves observations of friends and family that notice the differences.

Here are some symptoms to look for.

  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Difficulty or problems swallowing
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Migraine headaches
  • Nausea
  • Neck pain & stiffness
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Upper back pain and stiffness since muscles from the neck go into the upper back area
  • Upper extremity radiculopathy. Numbness or pain running down into your arms and fingers. This is from nerve damage to the brachial plexus (5 nerves that run out from your neck).
  • Vertigo or dizziness 

How Do Whiplash Injuries Happen?

Whiplash injuries occur when your head accelerates faster than the rest of your body in an attempt to catch up, only to be suddenly stopped and thrown back in the opposite direction. This can occur in as little as 80 to 150 milliseconds, which is faster than the reaction time your neck muscles need to protect you (typically around 200 milliseconds).

Illustration of a how a whiplash injury happens.

When your car gets hit frombehind, your upper back jerks forward first followed by your neck and head. The neck catches up with the body and passes it. As this happens, the curvature of the neck can be changed from a backward-facing C-shape to an S-shape. After the neck starts moving, your head then starts to move. Since the average head weighs between 8 to 10 pounds, it's like a bowling ball on top of your neck that gets whipped forward faster than both your body and your neck. At this point, your seatbelt stops the forward momentum of the body, but your neck and head are still moving. Suddenly, and violently, your head and neck are thrown back into the headrest. During a whiplash injury like this, your head is pulling your neck in one direction (forward or into "hyper-flexion") while at the same time your body is pulling your neck in the opposite direction (backward or into "hyper-extension").

Whiplash injuries can also cause a brain injury since your brain is going through similar trauma. The brain contains an inner white matter that is denser than the outer gray matter and floats in cerebrospinal fluid. During a whiplash injury, your brain doesn't start to move as soon as your head does. The back of your skull ends up banging against your brain when your head is thrown forward, and then your brain hits the front of your skull when your head is thrown back. Within the brain, the white and gray matter move at different speeds. Depending on the severity of the whiplash injury, the axons, which carry the brain neuron impulses and connect the white and gray matter, can be stretched or even torn. This can cause a mild traumatic brain injury known as a diffuse axonal shearing. This can happen within a fraction of a second and you may not even bump your head or be aware of the injury.

A side-to-side whiplash injury can have additional complications. The cervical spine (neck) has little joints on the side called joints of luschka or uncinate processes. When you get t-boned, these joints can cause nerve damage and spinal injuries.

Low-Impact Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash injuries can occur even during a low-impact accident where the vehicle might just get a few scratches. This is because the crush zones of a modern vehicle are designed to crumple, absorbing the crash impact and directing that energy away from the occupants. When an accident is not severe enough to crumple the crush zone of a vehicle, the impact energy is transferred to the vehicle occupants. Since a whiplash injury occurs faster than your neck muscles can react to protect you, it is possible to sustain a whiplash injury even during a low-impact accident. Research has demonstrated that an impact at only 8.2 mph was enough to cause significant injury to the occupants of the vehicle whether or not they felt it at the time of injury.

What Problems Can Whiplash Injuries Cause?

Whiplash injury from an auto accident.Whiplash injuries will vary from person to person and the severity of the accident. There are times when an individual can walk away from an accident and not be aware of their injuries for days or even weeks.

Here is a list of some of the initial injuries caused by whiplash.

  • Concussion
  • Joint damage
  • Herniated discs
  • Mild traumatic brain injury
  • Muscle injuries
  • Nerve damage and inflammation
  • Sprained ligaments
  • Strained tendons
  • Subluxations and misalignments to the spine

Injuries left untreated can progress. Your initial injuries can lead to other problems like bone spurs, scar tissue buildup, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, nerve damage, herniated discs, reduced range of motion, and future chronic pain. Injuries like strained tendons can heal incorrectly when not treated properly, and in some instances, injured ligaments, which have very little blood flow, may never fully heal.

World Class Chiropractic's Treatment of Whiplash

The chiropractic treatment of whiplash injuries is very effective. A study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine found 74% of whiplash patients improved with chiropractic care while conventional treatment of patients with whiplash symptoms was disappointing.

Dr. Steve Silverston will do a thorough consultation for every whiplash injury patient. It is extremely important for a whiplash patient, during the consultation, to make Dr. Silverston aware of all the symptoms they are dealing with due to their injuries. Some symptoms like nausea, memory loss, inability to concentrate, hesitation initiating speech, and blurred vision may point to mild traumatic brain injury which will require special tests. After the consultation, we conduct an examination using orthopedic, neurological, physical exam tests, and we get any necessary x-rays of the spine. With whiplash injuries, we also do flexion and extension films of the neck to evaluate any ligament damage to the neck, such as some of the bones sliding forward or backward more than they should — which is hyper-mobility of the joints due to severe ligament damage.

Dr. Silverston will develop a unique comprehensive game plan to deal with your whiplash injuries and correct them. Depending on the extent of your whiplash injuries, in addition to chiropractic adjustments, he may also recommend services such as cold laser therapy, nutritional supplementation, cryotherapy, soft tissue/massage therapy, as well as specialized rehabilitative exercises to strengthen and stabilize the spine or rehabilitate the spinal muscles so that we correct the problem all the way.

When people who come to see us right away after a motor vehicle accident is it’s easier to fix their spine and to help the soft tissues heal properly. Waiting to have soft tissue injuries — ligaments, tendons, and muscle — treated will cause additional problems and more scar tissue buildup.

Contact World Class Chiropractic at 410.461.3435 to treat and correct any whiplash injuries, or if you have recently been in an accident. Remember, leaving whiplash untreated will lead to other degenerative problems in the future. If you know someone who needs help, please recommend this article to them.