Whiplash is one of the most common injuries from auto accidents. This happens when the force of an impact "whips" the head violently in one direction beyond it's normal limits, the violently back in the opposite direction. The result: muscles, tendons, and ligaments supporting the spine can be overstretched or torn. The spinal cord and delicate nerve endings in the neck can be stretched, pinched, and irritated. The soft, cushioning discs occupying the spaces between vertebrae (spinal bones) can herniate (bulge), or even rupture (tear). Symptoms of whiplash may take hours, days, or even weeks to appear.
Common symptoms include:
Why whiplash may not be a minor injury
Even when the damage to your car is relatively minor, whiplash may have caused spinal damage. All too frequently lifelong health problems begin as a whiplash injury that was dismissed as minor at the time.
Any trauma to your spine can disturb the normal position and motion of the vertebrae, affecting nearby muscles, ligaments, and discs. These are what doctors call "vertebral subluxations." Because the vertebrae protect the spinal cord, even a small disturbance to the vertebrae can profoundly affect delicate nerve tissue. This impairment to the nervous system can cause tissues and organs throughout the body to function poorly. This degenerative chain reaction is called the vertebral subluxation complex. It is an underlying cause of many health problems, and can slowly destroy your good health.
Medical doctors are trained to treat life-threatening emergencies that result from accidents, such as bleeding, shock, and broken bones. However, they are not trained to recognize the hidden spinal damage leading to the vertebral subluxation complex. Many people leave the emergency room with a hidden health p[roblem that will only grow worse over time. Health conditions seemingly unrelated to the back can often be traced back to nervous system impairment involving the spine.
A "wait and see" approach to dealing with spinal injuries such as whiplash can be dangerous. Consult your Doctor of Chiropractic to have a spinal checkup whenever you have suffered a whiplash injury. No matter how minor the accident, spinal damage should be ruled out to protect your long-term health. If you have suffered whiplash, a chiropractic checkup can tell you the extent of your spinal injury and determine what care will help realign your spinal column.
Assessing your injury
The first step is a complete health history combined with a thorough examination. You will be asked to describe what happened to cause your injury. You'll also be asked to bend and turn, and your reflexes will be tested. Other standard chiropractic tests may be performed. X-rays of your spine will be taken. Your doctor will review this information and answer any questions you may have. Then the doctor will make recommendations for a program of care best suited to your particular whiplash injury.
Treatment varies according to the severity of your condition. With most patients, a series of adjustments is needed. During an adjustment, precisely directed force is applied to a spinal joint that is out of position or not moving properly. Spinal adjustments restore balance to the spine, helping to relieve pain and stiffness. In some cases, other therapies are also used for whiplash to help relax or strengthen muscles or reduce swelling. These include ultrasound, ice and heat therapy, traction, or trigger point therapy. And treatment often works best when combined with a self-care program of exercise and good posture. Your chiropractor will likely recommend exercises for you to do. Lifestyles changes such as dietary modifications and reduction of stress may also be suggested.
What you can do
In the beginning, frequent chiropractic visits may be necessary to help relieve your symptoms. It's not unusual to have some relief immediately after your first adjustment. However, one adjustment can't cure a severe problem, just as a single pill from a prescription can't cure an illness. So be patient. Give your treatment program time to work and yourself time to heal.
Make a commitment to your own recovery by following your doctor's prescribed treatment program. Most importantly, keep all of your scheduled appointments. Even after your symptoms ease, regular treatment is needed for more complete healing. Discontinuing treatment prematurely only delays and prevents full recovery.