Causes and Symptoms of Whiplash
A whiplash injury can happen as a result of an incident such as a car accident, a carnival ride, or many other high-speed situations. When this occurs, people may choose to seek traditional medical treatment and therapies. Or they can supplement with or try an alternative: chiropractic care after whiplash.
Whiplash is a neck strain or sprain. It is an injury that can impact the joints, the spaces between the vertebrae, discs and ligaments, or even the muscles and nerves. It can happen when there is a jerking motion of the head back and forth. This injury is most often caused by a car accident.1 Gymnasts are also often at risk for acute trauma in the cervical spine. There is always the possibility of slippage occurring while doing multiple flips and twists on the bars and rings. Safety equipment has become more of an emphasis in modern gymnastics, but accidents happen, and damage to the neck and back are two common, possible injuries.2
Symptoms vary depending on severity, position, and patient, and they could develop immediately or days after the accident. This is because scar tissue takes time to form. When compared to regular tissue, scar tissue is more adhesive and the feeling of it manifests as stiffness. The signs of whiplash might include headaches, shoulder and lower back pain, neck stiffness, dizziness, numb arms or hands, ear ringing or blurred vision, and mental effects (i.e., concentration issues, sleep problems, fatigue, and irritability). Diagnosis can involve CT scans or MRI since X-rays cannot show soft tissue damage. Whiplash is a serious condition and it, like any other neck injury, should be treated as soon as possible after discovery to prevent further, long-term damage.3
Treating Whiplash Medically
Traditionally, people see a doctor to diagnose whiplash. There are a few home treatments that patients can try. This includes applying cold packs or using over-the-counter pain medications, which include acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and aspirin. Patients are encouraged to limit activities and minimize movement of the head and neck.4 Some whiplash injuries are severe and could require surgery. But if the symptoms are just from soft tissue injuries, doctors may prescribe pain medication (such as narcotics, NSAIDs, muscle relaxers, and benzodiazepines to reduce spasms). They might recommend that patients wear a cervical collar around their neck. Some doctors could also offer the patient the options of physical therapy (to increase range of motion), electrical stimulation, or even alternative treatments, such as chiropractic care.5 These alternatives are not just aimed at symptom relief, and they do not carry the side-effects and risks of medications and surgery.
Chiropractic Care after Whiplash
Chiropractors have many options available to them when treating each individual case. Treatment depends on the patient and the severity of their injury. Therapies can include spinal manipulation, muscle relaxation, muscle stimulation, exercises, and lifestyle/ergonomic adjustments. Stretching is gentle and involves working with the muscles that have tension. For some, a more “vigorous stretch” will need to be employed, where the chiropractor will use “finger pressure techniques” on “trigger points”. Some chiropractors will use “McKenzie exercises” that are simple movements, done in the office at first, but that the patient can use for self-care at home to maintain their own wellness when they are not receiving care from the chiropractor. To correct problems from a patient’s daily activities, chiropractors will use “stabilization and sensorimotor exercise” to help the patient’s neck become more stable. These exercises are good for whiplash and for routine “micro trauma”.6
Massage Treatment of Whiplash
Massage therapy performed by a professional who has been trained in handling patients with whiplash is another treatment option. A few days after the whiplash accident is when a massage therapist can work on the patient so that the initial healing process is uninterrupted. The practitioner of massage should consult the patient’s primary physician to find out if there has been a fracture, concussion, or another issue before beginning their work. Therapists will also avoid the carotid artery because the anterior neck muscles are commonly also injured in whiplash.
The myofascial release technique could free the neck muscle and fascia that have been restricted, restoring fluidity and relieving stiffness caused by whiplash. Static compression to affected trigger points “creates an influx of oxygen that relaxes the contracted musculature”. This compression should prevent prolonged muscular dysfunction that would otherwise linger for years after the initial trauma. Deep tissue massage is performed after the superficial muscles have been relaxed by the previous therapies. Work in the deep tissue liberates contracted deep fascia, scar tissue, and adhesions. The massage therapist will listen to the patient’s pain level and tolerance to provide the most relief they can at one time, though multiple massage and chiropractic sessions are most often recommended.7 Patients should definitely consider alternative options for healing and restoration, such as chiropractic care and massage therapy, before committing to medications and surgery that could be unnecessary.
Learn more about discectomy pain after car accidents