With a growing population and more cars on the road, we also see an increase in car accidents and these are not always the fault of the driver. Being ‘rear-ended’ by someone following too closely or distracted by their iPhone or sound system at a red light or car park is all too common!
Increased traffic density from poor road planning and more members of families with their own cars comes into play. The use of public transport and bikes might help but you won’t care about this when someone has gone ‘up your rear’ and you hear that that fateful crunch.
The current design of cars, with a rigid central section and a crumple front and back zone and resilient seats, may be a contributor to whiplash. The occupants appear to be better protected against severe injuries, but the rigidity of the chassis imparts more torque to the seat back and probably partially accounts for the increase not only in whiplash-associated disorders but also in low-back pain in car occupants
Can We Prevent Whiplash?
Studies internationally show an increasing incidence of motor car injury annually and growing. A significant portion of those accidents are rear-end collisions, the most common, although not the only, cause of whiplash injuries. While it is not possible to prevent every case of whiplash, people can protect themselves from potential injuries in a variety of ways, including practicing safe, defensive driving techniques, wearing seat belts and adjusting headrests properly to prevent excessive trauma in the event of a rear end collision.
However, despite advances in automotive technology to protect vehicle occupants and to reduce rear end collisions, many people will still find themselves facing a diagnosis of whiplash at some point.
How Does Whiplash Happen?
A whiplash injury occurs due to rapid flexion and extension of the soft tissue structures of the neck and back. Soft tissue includes disks, vertebrae, muscles and tendons – anything that isn’t bone. When these tissues are stretched beyond their normal range of motion at a high speed, tissue damage may result and cause any number of symptoms. A rear end collision rapidly pushes the head, neck and spine in opposing directions. Vehicles don’t have to be moving at high speed to have a rear end collision cause whiplash injuries. Research shows that whiplash can occur even at speeds under 10KPH.
Regardless of the original speed of the vehicle, whiplash injuries occur in less than a second as the head, neck and lower back move in different directions and at different speeds during an accident. Medical researchers believe that the injury actually results from the speed of the movements as much as from the over-stretching and the actual forward and backward motion of the head and neck.
Because soft tissue doesn’t show on X-rays, whiplash injuries are difficult to diagnose accurately, and since whiplash symptoms may not occur until several hours to several days after the injury occurs, patients often don’t realize that they have sustained an injury until the pain or numbness becomes unbearable.
Symptoms of Whiplash Injury
Whiplash presents with a wide variety of symptoms, manifesting as pain or tingling in the lower back or the neck, numbness or pain in the arms, chest or lower extremities, neck stiffness, jaw pain, dizziness, headache, nausea, vomiting and blurred vision. Some patients experience extreme fatigue, forgetfulness or memory loss, tinnitus, irritability, depression and trouble concentrating as well.
In severe cases, the patient may actually suffer a concussion as the excessive force causes the brain to bump against the inside of the skull. Most patients will not suffer from all the possible symptoms of whiplash, but most will exhibit multiple symptoms. Symptoms may vary over time as the soft tissue heals or if it is injured further due to excessive or unwise activity.
Whiplash can be extremely difficult to diagnose or treat because of the variability of the symptoms. Many clinicians prescribe an MRI or a CT scan in cases of suspected whiplash, because these imaging studies do show soft tissue.
However, even with today’s sensitive MRI equipment and CT scan technology, it is often difficult to isolate and visualize tissue damage. Doctors may treat whiplash injuries with painkillers, muscle relaxants and occasionally, anti-depressants, but these pharmacological solutions simply treat the symptoms and not the underlying cause of the pain.
Chiropractic Care for Whiplash
Chiropractic treatment is one of the most successful methods of treating whiplash injuries. Spinal manipulations work by helping to realign the vertebrae and disks so that the risk of additional injury is minimized as the patient resumes day-to-day activities. Some patients feel immediate relief while others require several sessions.
It is also possible that the symptoms of whiplash will never entirely subside even with continued treatment, since about 10 percent of whiplash sufferers never completely recover and become pain free. However, a combination of gentle exercise, ice and heat, medication and chiropractic care will help make the symptoms manageable. In fact, early manipulation and range of motion exercises lead to better, faster outcomes than traditional treatments such as immobilization from wearing a cervical collar, according to many published studies.
Chiropractic spinal adjustments, or manipulations, of the spine attempt to recreate the normal curvature of the neck and spine, called cervical lordosis. While x-rays don’t show soft tissue injury, they may show an abnormal straightening of the cervical spine, which is usually due to muscle spasms.
Along with spinal manipulation to correct the positioning of the disks and vertebrae, relaxing the surrounding muscles to enable the spine to resume its normal curvature will help eliminate pain.
To help relax the muscle and eliminate the spasms, chiropractic treatment for a whiplash injury will most likely include using ice, along with gentle massage to help relax the muscles surrounding the injured areas as well as careful manipulation to help the spine resume its normal curvature.
Early treatment can help prevent additional aggravation of the injured area that may increase or prolong the discomfort. Of course, only a registered chiropractor can decide on the proper course of treatment for any particular patient or injury, so it’s important to see a chiropractor as soon as you begin to suspect that you may have suffered a whiplash injury. The choice of ice, heat, collar treatment and medications can be confusing and an experienced chiropractor will know which to combine for most effectiveness.