Whiplash is a term commonly associated with rapid uncontrolled movement of the head and neck as they “whip” back and forth during a motor vehicle accident. Strenuous movement occurring in the accident can cause injury to the occupants of the vehicle. Whether the accident is a rear end, front end or side to side type the bottom line is: the neck hurts!
When a whiplash injury occurs there can be singing of the muscles and tendons which is called a “strain”. Also there can be singing of ligaments which is called a “sprain”. Ligaments are tissues which attach from one bone to another and allow a proper amount of motion but not too much. Also there can be damage to the discs of the neck which are similar to pads or cushions between the bones. At times the joints of the neck can be damaged which can be similar to when we hurt the joints of our knuckles. Often the nerves exiting openings between the spinal bones can be pinched and irritated. Here are some myths and truths about whiplash you should know.
MYTH # 1: Time and rest will heal the whiplash.
Although time is certainly a factor in helping a health problem to improve many people find that time alone is not sufficient. One study showed that a significant number of those injured in a motor vehicle trauma suffered chronic symptoms. Thirty years after being injured: 45% completely recovered, 40% reported “nuisance” symptoms but 15% still had significant symptoms and impairments requiring ungoing treatment. Perhaps a better approach than watching and waiting is to think more in terms of a sports injury model where rapid treatment is given as soon as possible after the injury occurs. Rather than wear a neck collar and take pain pills studies show that manipulation and mobilization, which is commonly performed by chiropractors, often yields significantly better outcomes.
MYTH # 2: Seatbelts prevent whiplash injuries.
Seatbelts save lives. It is against the law not to wear a seatbelt. They prevent us from hiring the windshield or even worse, being thrown from the vehicle. So it is important to wear seatbelts. However, when it comes to preventing whiplash the opposite may actually be true. The reason seatbelts can add to neck injury is because when the chest and trunk are tightly against the seat the head and neck move into more of a whipping action when the force of the accident occurs. One of the best ways to minimize whiplash injury is to position the head restraint high enough (typically above the ears) and close to the head (no more than to to 1 inch) so the head rest stops the back whipping motion. Additionally, keeping the seat back more vertical than reclined is a good preventive tactic.
MYTH # 3: People who are unaware of the impending impact are less likely to be hurt.
The fact is the opposite is true. Sometimes it is not uncommon to hear someone say that because they did not have any awareness that an accident was about to occur they were limp and their body just “went along with the force” and therefore no injuries happened. Actually, those who can brace and protect themselves are less likely, despite still vulnerable, to suffer injury. This is also why someone with a greater neck muscle mass tend to have less damage in an automobile accident than a person like a female or tall, thin people with non-muscular necks.
MYTH # 4: Negative x-rays mean everything is fine.
Many times a person who has x-rays after an auto accident is told by the radiologist or their doctor that the x-rays are “normal”. This should not be confused to mean there is no injury. X-rays show only the bones of the neck, not the soft tissues. Soft tissues include muscles, tendons, ligaments, disks and nerves. Only an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) shows the soft tissues. But because an MRI costs more than x-rays it may not be ordered. Do not assume that you are okay just because the x-rays do not show damage.
When a person is injured in a motor vehicle accident the question arises what type of care to best choose in recovery. Certainly if emergency measures are needed one should initially immediately seek help from emergency medical technicians and a trauma emergency center. If there is no emergency situation or the emergency crisis has passed a chiropractor is well suited to handle people having neck pain from whiplash, headaches and shoulder and arm pain. Chiropractors are doctors who have extensive training and insight into helping people to heal, as much as possible, from their problems. Chiropractors commonly can provide advice on whether to use ice or heat to the damaged areas. Chiropractors can perform adjustments, manipulations or mobilizations to the spine and extemities to restore proper movement and motion and to help realign the injured joints. Chiropractors can also provide therapies that can help physically, such as electrical muscle stimulation. A chiropractor can also instruct the patient on which type of stretching and strengthening exercises are best utilized. If you or a family member or friend require care for whiplash a chiropractor can be a great asset in assisting health recovery.