Whiplash is a commonly used term for a neck sprain and strain injury caused from an automobile collison. When in an automobile accident, a force travels through the vehicle and through the body. This force can cause the head to be forcibly snapped backwards or sideways. This type of trauma is referred to as an acceleration/deceleration injury to the spine and can result in a ligament sprain, muscle strain or even fracture.
In a whiplash injury, the ligaments and tendons that help stabilize the spine are often times stretched and/or torn making them unstable. Due to this instability the bones of the spine (vertebrae) or the discs in between the bones can shift out of alignment. If the disc moves this can cause the disc to bulge or herniate, which is called a disc bulge or disc herniation. When the spine shifts out of alignment this causes what we call a vertebral subluxation (misalignment of one spinal bone compared to another.) Other damages may include but are not limited to torn ligaments or joint damage.
The full effect of the damage from a whiplash injury may not be experienced until one to three days after the accident. This is primarily due to two known factors. The first factor is adrenaline. Large amounts of a hormone called adrenaline are released into the body when an accident occurs. This large production of adrenaline (fight or flight response) often times makes people unaware of the damage that has taken place. The second factor is that for the first 72 hours, the body responds to the injury with a barrage of chemicals. These chemicals create swelling and in the presence of swelling comes stiffness, and pain.
Early treatment is essential to help control the swelling (edema) process. Preferably, care should be obtained within the first 24-48 hours following a motor vehicle collision. If you have been in an automobile accident, you should request an emergency appointment with your Doctor of Chiropractic. Your chiropractor can instruct you on the proper use of ice, rest, and other measures to reduce inflammation and pain.
There are long-term advantages to early treatment as well. One major advantage is the decreased risk of arthritis forming in the joints. Joint arthritis in the spine, called degenerative joint disease, can occur if the swelling in the joints remains too long or if the tissue damage cannot be adequately repaired.
Chiropractors treat thousands of spinal injury cases each year. Your chiropractor can help determine the extent of your back pain or neck injury through examination, x-ray and MRI. A course of treatment can then be outlined to help in the recovery process. Chiropractic treatment can help in a numbers of ways by fixing the bone misalignment’s (subluxations) that could lead to arthritis or dysfunction in the future, restoring proper joint movement, strengthening spinal ligaments/tendons that were damaged and/or getting you to someone who can help (orthopedist, pain management, neurologist) if the Chiropractor finds it clinically necessary.
Dr. Michael Gampolo