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What is Whiplash?

A whiplash is an injury to the spine caused by a rapid acceleration and deceleration of the head backward and forward, or side to side.  This sudden jerking of the spine causes partial tearing of the ligaments muscles and other joint tissues on one side of the spine and jamming of spinal discs and cartilage of the other side. It is often the result of a car wreck or a sports injury. 

The hidden danger is that underlying problems may take years to develop like degenerative arthritis.  At Ellis Chiropractic a common statement we hear after we ask a new patieint how their spinal pain or headaches began is "well, back in 1982 I was in this car wreck, I thought it would just go away, but it's never been the same since." As these patients can attest whiplash, left untreated, can result in chronic pain.  This is due to joints being stuck and then healing this way with stiff fiberous scar tissue which continues to cause joint fixation, and can lead to spinal degeneration (osteoarthritis).

Symptoms of Whiplash:

Neck pain and or stiffness 92%
Headache 57%
Fatigue 56%
Shoulder pain 49%
Pain between shoulder blades 42%
Lower back pain 39%
Numbness/tingling in arm 30%
Sensitivity to noise 29%
Difficulty concentrating 26%
blurred vision 21%
irritability 21%
difficulty swallowing 16%
dizziness 15%
forgetfullness 15%
arm pain 12%
arm weakness 6%
ringing in the ears 4%
pain in the jaw or face 4%

Emergency room doctors are well trained and careing, but often underestimate whiplash severity

If you have been to the emergency room you were most likely evalutated for fractures or damaged internal organs or serious head injury.  If none of these were found, the doctors often do not consider your injury serious.  But whiplash can cause significant damage to joint ligaments which as stated above can result in chronic pain, and spinal degeneration.  These injuries are not visible with conventional X-ray.  The emergency room doctors often recommend muscle relaxants, pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications and may then tell you to expect the pain to be gone in a couple of weeks.  However, all too often, two weeks go by and the pain is still there and may even be worse.  The headaches continue daily and it still hurts to do normal daily tasks, even just turning your head to check for oncoming traffic at at stop sign may be quiet painful.  You may be wondering "isn't there anything that can be done but keep taking pain medication?" 


What we do at Ellis Chiropractic to help you get back to your old self

  • Reduce the inflammation, and support the sore muscles and joints with ultrasound, ice, kinesiotape, and gentle stretches

  • Restore proper spinal motion with adjustments to the injured joints
  • Release tight - knotted - and spasming muscles.
  • Strengthen weak muscles with exercises that will restore balance in the muscles from side to side and front to back

Can you get hurt in just a little wreck?

Even low impact collisions, that might be considered just a "little fender bender" have been shown to cause whiplash and ligamentous damage.  Even just 5 miles/hour can result in whiplash, although there may not even be damage to the vehicles.

Yale University perfomed a study trying to determine the least amount of force needed to tear spinal ligaments.  They used human cadaver spines for the experiments.  They used 3.5, 5, 6.5, and 8g.  These are acceleration levels  that would be found in low speed collisions.  The first injuries occurred at the 5g acceleration, and injured the C5-C6 level of the spine (shown at the left).  The same segment that most whiplash symptoms seem to originate.

At higher accelerations the injuries spread to the C4-C5 and the C7-T1 levels of the spine.  Once they reached 6.5 and 8g, the injuries spread to other parts of the spine.  The authors concluded that "chronic pain resulting from low-speed collisions can be explained by partial tears of the soft tissues including anulus fibers, ligaments and avascular cartilage.  Because of the low blood supply these tissues may not completely heal following injury, resulting in altered spine kinematics that can lead to accelerated degenerative changes and clinical instability".   Or in English... even low speed wrecks can cause tearing of spinal joint tissues that don't heal very well.  The joints then don't move properly and can lead to early arthritis.

How can you be in a lot of pain even though your car has little or no damage?

When you are in a wreck, you get whiplash because your body is lurched in a new direction.  The faster and further your body is shoved in this new direction, the more injury that happens to your spine.

Cars are now designed to collapse, or crush on impact.  This is bad for your car, but it's good for your spine, because as the bumper and car panels crush, they absorb the shock, so your car doesn't get shoved as far, and you don't get hurt as bad.

If you are not hit hard enough for the bumper to crush, all that acceleration translates into your car moving forward and your spine getting whiplash.

So... if the slowest wrecks are at 2.5 miles an hour the injury severity isn't too bad, but it gets worse as the speed goes up to 5 - 10 miles an hour until the bumper finally crushes then the whiplash severity drops.  As speed keeps climbing the whiplash severity goes back up, and the worst injuries are at very high speeds.  But there are some real whiplash injuries that take place at the lower speeds just before the bumper crushes.

So, just because your car isn't mutilated doesn't mean you didn't get hurt.  Auto insurance companies know this, but they often try to make you feel guilty for getting care for your injuries by saying "your car didn't have much damage, you can't be hurt that bad".  They are banking on you not knowing this, but "your no dummy."

Chiropractic can help even if your wreck was months or years ago and your'e still in pain.

  • There are 12.5 million car crashes yearly in the united states.  Up to 60% of drivers are still experienceing pain after 6 months.
  • 2.5 million car wrecks are rear end collisions.  About 33% of drivers are in pain even after 2 years.
  • Out of about 2 million whiplash injuries reported -10% become chronically disabled for life.
Source: National Saftey Council

The sooner you come to the chiropractor after a wreck the more we can help you recover and heal properly but If your wreck was years ago, you may think it's too late.  At this point the auto insurance is most likely closed so they won't pay for your care, BUT, much can be done for patients with chronic (long standing) pain from whiplash.  Check out this study that was published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine (1) .   First the researchers stated that "Conventional treatment of patients with whiplash symptoms is disappointing"  by this they mean the typical medical treatments.  So they were wondering what they would find with chiropractic.  So they took 100 consecutive patients that came to chiropractors offices and catagorized them into 3 groups.

Group 1:  neck and upper back pain, and restricted range of neck movement, but not neurological deficit

Group 2: neurological symptoms as well as neck pain and restricted range of neck movement.

Group 3: severe neck pain, but had full range of movement and no neurological symptoms, but also "described an unusual complex of symptoms" including "blackouts, visual distrubances, nausea, vomiting and chest pain. along with nondermatomal distribution of pain".  (Basically not the norm)   \

Here is the results after an average of 19.3 adjustments over about 4 months (mean).  Remember, these are people who were still in pain over 1 year after their wreck who hadn't been to a chiropractor...

Group 1 (neck pain no neurological deficit)
72% Improved.  1/3 now had no pain at all at the end of treatments.
28% Did not improve.
Group 2 (neck pain and neurological symptoms)
94% Improved, close to half had no pain or symptoms at the end of treatment
6% Did not improve.
Group 3 (neck pain, full range of motion, weird other symptoms too)
27% Improved, none of which were pain free at the end of treatment
73% Did not improve (so just don't be part of this "unusual complex" group ;)

Here are some tips to decrease the severity of your injuries if you are ever in another wreck...

  • Of course wear your seatbelt to reduce the risk of the most severe injuries.
  • If you see the oncoming car and know you are about to get hit, do the following..

1.) Look straight ahead.  Studies have shown that passengers whose head is turned at the point of impact are more likely to have serious neck injuries.

2.)  Tighten the muscles of your neck.  This reduces how much whipping action takes place in your neck and keeps the severity down.  I know, you've heard that if you relax your injuries are less... this is simply a myth.

3.) Push on the brakes if you are just about to be rearended.  This keeps the car from shooting forward as far and so keeps your head from being whipped back as forceful.