Whiplash Induced By Car Accidents And How Chiropractic Can Help
Auto accidents, however minor, can cause lasting pain and discomfort in the spine. When car crashes occur, the momentum transfer between vehicles can force the spine into extremely unnatural positions, causing injury to the surrounding muscles and ligaments. One of the most common injuries in minor collisions is whiplash - it is estimated around 120,000 whiplash injuries occur in the USA each year. These injuries can potentially damage the structural support given to the neck, and so should be treated as soon as the trauma occurs.
Effect of Whiplash on the Neck
The main cause of whiplash if when you're involved in a rear-end collision - your car is stationery (e.g. waiting at stop lights) and the tail vehicle crashes into the back of your vehicle. When this occurs, your body is pushed forward to accommodate the collision, and your neck, unrestrained by the seat belt, extends forward from the rest of your upper body. When your car comes to a halt, the neck is then 'whipped' backwards extremely quickly and collides with your headrest.
These rear-end collisions can cause much more damage to the muscles than simple sprains. As your neck is forced into an unnatural position, the typical S-shape of your spine if compromised causing significant trauma to the surrounding area. Usually, the joints in your neck glide over one another due to the presence of synovial fluid that lubricates the area. When whiplash occurs, these joints are quickly forced into compression that causes damage to the nerves, ligaments and discs.
Symptoms of Whiplash
Aside from the physiological conditions (sprain, stiffness) associated with whiplash, there are a number of other symptoms that occur. Your neck contains a large number of small receptors called proprioreceptors situated within the ligaments. These proprioreceptors send the brain signals regarding the position of the neck joints. If your ligaments are damaged from whiplash, these signals may be interrupted and cause the following symptoms:
- Arm Pain
- Poor concentration
The symptoms of whiplash may not appear immediately after the trauma occurs. It's possible that you feel fine immediately following the crash, but the injured area begins to hurt some time following this.
This is because your body is able to compensate for short-term injuries, causing the symptoms to remain dormant until later. It can take some time for the swelling caused by micro-tears to grow and become irritating. If the ligaments are structurally damaged, the muscles can become tight in order to protect the injured ligaments and nerves from further injury.
Whiplash Caused by Low-impact Collisions and Other Incidents
Whiplash injuries are typically associated with relatively high-speed rear-collisions, but this isn't always the case.
These injuries can also be caused by low-speed car crashes that cause the forward motion of the neck described above. In high-speed collisions, your muscles automatically spasm to protect the spine's structural integrity When the neck is stretched slowly, the receptors in the ligaments don't recognize the threat of injury and the protective mechanism doesn't kick in, which can lead to injury.
Any accident causing quick movement of the neck can cause whiplash. Typical scenarios include slips, falls and quick rotations of the cervical spine. Whiplash may also be induced by repetitive straining of the neck area, such as motorcyclists who wear a helmet that can cause additional force when braking.
How Chiropractic Can Help
Chiropractic therapy offered by professionals such as Chiropractor Plus is one of the best treatments to treating whiplash injuries due to its gentle, non-invasive approach. When you visit your local chiropractor, they will take a series of x-rays known as 'flexion/extension views' in order to determine any structural problems of the neck. This will then be backed up by a dynamic examination of the area in order to assess whether the spine is moving properly or not.
The first course of therapy, in order to control swelling, may the use of cold therapy to the neck. This is basically a more clinical form of ice-therapy, and is used to reduce discomfort and inflammation in the surrounding muscles.
Following this, your chiropractor will likely begin with gentle adjustments to the area in order to restore movement. Chiropractors understand the sensitivity that can be caused by whiplash, and so will work with you to ensure that no discomfort is experienced during the adjustment process. These corrections will decrease pain and significantly restore movement to the neck.
In addition to manual adjustments, many chiropractors will use physiotherapy based approaches in order to rehabilitate the damaged area. This may involve the use of exercise balls, coordination exercises or neck stretches in order to mobilize damaged receptors and strengthen the neck.
The focus of chiropractic treatment is to return the body to its natural state, and allow its self-healing processes to work effectively. Through a program structured to your specific needs, your chiropractic will restore functionality to the area, decrease the chance of chronic pain and stabilize the surrounding muscles to avoid future complications.