What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is most commonly caused by a motor vehicle accident in which the car the person is riding in is not moving, and is struck from a vehicle from behind without notice. It is commonly thought the rear impact causes the head and neck to be forced into hyperextension as the seat pushes the person's torso forward - and the unrestrained head and neck fall backwards. After a short delay the head and neck then recover and are thrown into a hyperflexed position.
More recent studies investigating high-speed cameras and sophisticated crash dummies have determined that after the rear impact the lower cervical vertebrae (lower bones in the neck) are forced into a position of hyperextension while the upper cervical vertebrae (upper bones in the neck) are in a hyperflexed position. This leads to an abnormal S-shape in the cervical spine after the rear impact that is different from the normal motion. It is thought that this abnormal motion causes damage to the soft tissues that hold the cervical vertebrae together (ligaments, facet capsules, muscles).
How can it be treated?
Often the initial treatment for whiplash has been a soft cervical collar. The goal of the collar is to reduce the range of motion of the neck and to prevent any additional injuries. More recent studies have shown that more prolonged immobilization actually slows the healing process.
Patients involved in early range of motion exercises have been shown to have a more reliable and rapid improvement in their symptoms. This treatment typically involves rotational exercises performed 10 times per hour as soon as symptoms allow within the first four days of the accident.
It seems that excessive rest and immobilization have been shown to have greater chances of chronic symptoms. This is explained by loss of range of motion leading to increased pain and stiffness. Immobilization also causes muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) and decreased blood flow and healing of damaged muscles.
Chiropractic and Corrective Spinal Exercises can be useful in helping to wean a patient from a cervical collar as well as to help strengthen muscles and reduce painful motions. We have many therapies to treat whiplash injuries with the goal of decreasing pain and normalizing spinal function.