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Whiplash

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is most commonly associated with rear-end car collisions in which the heads of those in the front car are suddenly snapped back and forth by the impact. It is more accurately called cervical acceleration/deceleration (CAD) trauma or syndrome, which describes the rapid movements that can injure the vertebrae of the neck and the muscles and ligaments that support them.

Who suffers from whiplash?

Anyone can be subjected to whiplash, even in a low-force car crash at speeds as low as 5 mph. But injuries associated with whiplash can also result from other mishaps in which the head is pushed or jerked beyond its normal range of motion. Whiplash most commonly causes serious and lingering neck pain, but there may also be back pain, headaches and dizziness. Inasmuch as bruising of the brain can sometimes occur in auto accidents and similarly severe causes of whiplash, some victims have experienced blurred vision, ringing in the ears, nausea and numbness.

What can chiropractic do?

The sudden accident that caused the whiplash in the first place may fade into memory, but the physical and psychological damage of whiplash can become chronic, eroding a victim's quality of life. Chiropractic techniques and chiropractors' skills are particularly well suited to relieving the neck pain and other debilitating effects of whiplash because they can

  • restore movement lost after the accident,
  • overcome muscle weakness and enhance muscle tone,
  • speed recovery, and
  • diminish chronic symptoms that can persist or recur over many years.

Repeated and effective chiropractic adjustments have proved successful for many thousands of patients. Chiropractic can, in many cases, significantly reduce patients' distress and allow them to return to their normal activities rather than seeing themselves as invalids--as so many whiplash victims do long after their accident.

Treatments for Whiplash

A chiropractic examination of a possible whiplash injury entails assessing whether a serious injury warrants hospitalization, and which tissues and spinal structures have been injured.

The exam may include such things as a cranial nerve examination, reflex and motor skill tests, and motion palpation, which assess the spinal joints' mobility and pain response.

Possible treatments for whiplash may include:

  • Muscle relaxation or stimulation, which entails gentle muscle stretches and/or finger pressure on specific sensory trigger points;
  • Heat therapy;
  • Ice therapy;
  • Spinal manipulation; and
  • Range of motion and other therapeutic exercises designed to test the stability and integrity of the neck muscles and correct unnatural movement patterns in the neck and other areas.

Consultation about proper ergonomics, including tools used during work, as well as mattresses and pillows may also be helpful.

Some people who incur whiplash supplement their chiropractic treatment with a device called a cervical collar, a soft cushion that envelopes the neck and keeps the weight of the head from applying undue pressure to damaged tissues during the healing process. Other methods may employ a cervical traction device, which keeps the neck immobile.

Most people who suffer whiplash can heal properly in two to four weeks, providing they follow the treatment regimen outlined by their chiropractor. Severe cases of whiplash involving trauma to the spine or discs may require surgery.

References

  • Borchgrevink GE, Kaasa A, McDonagh D, et al. Acute treatment of whiplash neck sprain injuries: A randomized trial of treatment during the first 14 days after a car accident. Spine, 1998; vol. 23, no. 1, pp25-31.
  • Foreman, SM, Croft AC. Whiplash injuries: The cervical acceleration/deceleration syndrome, 2nd ed., Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1995.
  • Lord SM, Barnsley L, Wallis BJ, Bogduk, N.. Chronic cervical zygapophysial joint pain after whiplash. Spine, 1996; vol. 21, no. 15, pp1737-45.
  • Squires B, Gargan MF, Bannister GC. Soft-tissue injuries of the cervical spine: A 15-year follow-up. Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery (British Edition), 1996; vol. 70B, pp955-57.
  • Spitzer WO, Skovron, ML, Salmi LR, et al. Redefining "whiplash" and its management. Scientific Monograph of the Quebec Task Force on Whiplash-Associated Disorders, Spine, 1995; vol. 20, no. 8S, pp1S-72S.
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