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Chiropractic Care: Symptoms of Whiplash

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Injuries to the neck caused by a sudden movement of the head, backward, forward, or sideways, is referred to as whiplash. Whether from a car accident, sports, or an accident at work, whiplash or other neck injuries warrant a thorough chiropractic check-up. The biggest danger with whiplash injuries is that the symptoms can take years to develop. Too often people don't seek treatment until more serious complications develop. Even after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, some 45% report they still suffer with symptoms two years later.

In the past a typical whiplash injury, where no bones were broken, was hard to document. Soft tissue injury didn't show up on normal x-rays/radiographs and insurance companies would deny coverage. Literally adding insult to injury, the patient suffering all too real pain was considered to be a fraud, a liar, or at best a hypochondriac. New imaging devices (CAT Scans, Magnetic Imaging, and Ultra Sound) now show soft tissue injury and insurance companies now cover most whiplash injuries. When no bones are broken and the head doesn't strike the windshield, typical symptoms are as follows: 62% to 98% complain of neck pain, which typically starts two hours up to two days after the accident. This is often the result of tightened muscles that react to either muscle tears or excessive movement of joints from ligament damage. The muscles tighten in an effort to splint and support the head, limiting the excessive movement.

Sixty-six to 70% of those suffering from whiplash complain of headache. The pain may be on one side or both, on again off again or constant, in one spot or more general. These headaches, like the neck pain, are often the result of tightened, tensed muscles trying to keep the head stable and, like tension headaches, they are often felt behind the eyes.

Shoulder pain often described as pain radiating down the back of the neck into the shoulder blade area, may also be the result of tensed muscles.

Muscle tears are often described as burning pain, prickling or tingling. More severe disc damage may cause sharp pain with certain movements, with or without radiation into the arms, hand and fingers, which are relieved by holding your hand over your head.

The chart below lists the most common whiplash symptoms. If you experience any of these symptoms, play it safe and get a chiropractic check up.

Basic Whiplash Symptoms

  • Neck pain and/or stiffness
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the arms or legs, feet and hands
  • Headache
  • Low back pain and/or stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain in the jaw or face

How Does Whiplash Happen?
Whiplash is most commonly received from riding in a car that is struck form behind, or collides with another vehicle. When the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal limits, the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine can be over-stretched or torn. In a rear end collision for example, the victim's car is first pushed or accelerated forward and then, because their foot is on the brake, or their car hits the vehicle in front, their car is rapidly slowed down, or decelerated. As the vehicle accelerates forward, it pushes the body forward too, but the head remains behind momentarily, rocking up and back, until some of the muscles and ligaments are stretched or torn. Too often the injury occurs before the head rebounds off the headrest (Providing there is one. If not, the injuries sustained are much worse as there is no method to prevent hyperextension from occurring). Click here to see an sample video.

These muscles, in a reflex action, contract to bring the occupant’s head forward again, and to prevent excessive injury. This overcompensates because at this point the head is already traveling in a forward direction as the car decelerates. This violently rocks the head forward, stretching and tearing more muscles and ligaments. The soft pulpy discs between the vertebrae can bulge, tear, or rupture. Vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion. The spinal cord and nerve roots get stretched, irritated, and choked. If the victim is not properly restrained the occupants head may strike the steering wheel or windshield, possibly causing a concussion.

The resulting instability of the spine and soft tissues are noteworthy and depend on several factors.

Material © Healthy Spine
Used by Permission

Updated on: 05/13/11
Donald A. Ozello, DC

This well-written and well-researched article describes the sources and symptoms of whiplash injuries in great detail.

When one sustains a whiplash injury, it is advised they seek a chiropractic evaluation immediately. What first appears to be mild symptoms of neck, head and/or TMJ pain may not heal correctly and worsen over time without proper treatment.

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