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Posted on 07-20-2017

As far as injury names go, whiplash is a fairly scary one. I don't know about you, but I don't want my head and neck to be used as a whip. Unfortunately, that's pretty much exactly what happens in whiplash injuries. When you use a whip, it goes all the way one direction and then snaps back in the opposite way really fast, and that's exactly what causes the damage to your cervical spine (your neck).

Even without hitting your head on something like your headrest or steering wheel, your neck still has to handle rapid acceleration in one direction followed by rapid acceleration in the other direction, with the weight and momentum of your head pulling it in the opposite direction. The ligaments and muscles of your neck get stretched each way, injuring both and sending your neck muscles into spasm. Initially it's good that your body sends your muscles into spasm because it prevents excessive motion and therefore further injury, but we need to get it to relax in order to get your spine moving properly again and decrease your symptoms.

On top of all that acceleration and trauma, your body is less prepared to handle those kinds of forces while seated than it would be standing. When you're seated, most of your postural muscles aren't being activated, so even if your neck could handle those kind of forces while running or playing a sport, it's less prepared to handle them while driving.

This is the same mechanism that causes a lot of concussions, which is why concussions are even common in car accidents where patients don't actually hit their head. The quick acceleration of your head causes your brain to bump into your skull, which has the same affect as actually hitting your head. 

Keep in mind that while the trauma is immediate, it's not uncommon to only start feeling symptoms after a couple of days. A combination of pain killing opioids your body produces in response to trauma, your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) response, and delayed onset muscles soreness (DOMS) like after a hard workout, can keep pain at bay for a little while even after a very serious injury. So, if you've been in what looks like a serious accident, even if you feel fine, make sure you get checked out by professionals to rule out any potentially serious injury.

So now that you've heard the bad news about whiplash injuries, what can we do to fix them? Fortunately, if you're reading this blog, you've probably heard of chiropractic, so you've already got that going for you. Adjustments, whether using the activator or good old manual adjusting, helps to decrease inflammation and muscle spasm around the joint. Gentle muscle and fascia massage can help do the same as can certain modalities, like electric interferential therapy or ultrasound, depending on how acute your condition is. And finally, prescribing the right stretches and exercises for you to do at home to help you treat yourself between visits to the chiropractor will accelerate your healing time and make sure you have the best outcome possible.

So make sure you drive carefully, wear your seat belt, and stay safe on the roads this summer as you sit in traffic on the way to the cape. But if you get in a fender bender, make sure you call the chiropractor (probably after you call your insurance company).

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