Whiplash injuries are also known as acceleration/deceleration injuries and need not be a result of car accident. In fact you do not have to hit your head or neck - a sudden movement, especially if it is repetitive, may cause injury. A slip, a fall, or a collision on the sports field with an opponent can all give you a whiplash injury. In a road accident all it can take is 8km/h of velocity to cause whiplash symptoms, so even a 'minor' bumper bashing can give whiplash.

Your pain and discomfort as a result of a whiplash injury might not feel any better especially if you were told that there is no evidence of injury on your neck x-rays. However, this is often the case, because initially nothing may show up on an x-ray unless the accident was very severe and caused a dislocation or fracture of the bones. Spinal disc and muscle injuries cannot be seen as the x-ray passes through them. Most importantly vertebral joint fixations are not seen as they require movement to be detected and an x-ray show a static picture.

Whiplash Symptoms

Symptoms can take months or even longer to appear, as your body can compensate in the short term. Rather than just a simple sprain to muscles and strained ligaments of the neck, research shows that during a road traffic accident involving a rear-end shunt, the neck curves in an abnormal S-shape which grossly alters normal neck movement. Normally the joints at the back of your neck glide over each other and are self-lubricated, but a whiplash injury forces them together. This can damage the surrounding area including your, nerves, muscles, ligaments and discs.

There are tiny receptors in the ligaments, muscles around the neck and in the capsule surrounding the vertebral joints called, proprioceptors. These relay constant information to your brain about the position of the joints. If these proprioceptors have been disturbed, you may experience some of the following whiplash symptoms:

  • Neck pain/Muscle Spasm
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Arm pain
  • Fatigue
  • Poor Concentration

The result is a loss of proper movement in the joints in your neck, which may interfere with the healthy working of the nerves that run through it. This can lead to pain, although it may take days, weeks or even months to develop.

Remember pain is a warning sign that something isn't functioning properly.

Whiplash Treatment

Treatment is dependent on the severity of the whiplash. In the early stages if there is lots of inflammation and limited movement due to pain work on calming the inflammation is priority. When pain levels have improved to a suitable level gentle work on the vertebral joints is important in order to calm the surrounding nervous system and free up fixations.

Once treatment has gotten you past the initial pain and discomfort, chiropractic can help you maintain proper neck movement and so keep your nervous and muscular system in a relaxed state.

It is important, therefore, to have an active and managed treatment plan for whiplash that would involve your chiropractor, for improving neck movement and relaxing the nerves. An exercise programme will be discussed with you and if needed, the help of a biokineticist to help reactivate the muscles of your neck and improve balance.

How about Wearing a Collar?

Although in the acute stage a soft collar may be worn for a short time (1-6 weeks), collars should not be relied upon for a long time (months-years). If you become reliant on a collar, the muscles of your neck will become weaker as their job is being done by the collar. This would lead to dependency on the collar and further pain in the future. So make sure if you have to wear a soft collar because of whiplash then seek the opinion of your local chiropractor or medical doctor about when it can come off.

I think I have Whiplash

It is always best to have your neck checked after a whiplash incident, if you have bumped your head it is very important to have it checked. Your chiropractor can check your neck and if need take or refer you for an x-ray to check if any serious problems also your chiropractor can advise you on the appropriate treatment straight away.