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Understanding Your Injury: Whiplash


One of the most common injuries seen and treated at Keith Clinic is the whiplash injury. Whiplash injuries or acceleration-declaration injuries occur due to rapid back and forth movements sustained to the body (neck or back most commonly). 

It comes from the cracking of a whip hence the name whiplash.   

The back and forth movements can happen in any direction but most commonly are in the manner of hyperextension to hyperflexion (backwards bend to forwards bend).  Many people commonly associate the whiplash injury with car accidents when in fact this injury occurs any time the body experiences the high force jerking motions.  For example, whiplash can commonly occur in sports injuries, riding a rollercoaster, or even a slip and fall.  Anytime someone experiences this type of injury the sudden jerking motions result in an overstretching to our body. 

When tissues in our body are overstretched, specifically muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints tearing can occur.  Imagine a rubber band, if you take that rubber band and stretch it out as far as you can eventually it will fail, resulting in that rubber band breaking. Now you may be thinking, wait a second…tearing?

Well yes, tearing occurs but this tearing is referred to as microtrauma.  Meaning that it happens on a much smaller scale to the individual fibers that help make up these tissues. 

The resulting overstretching/tearing causes sprain and strains to occur in our tissues.  Since sprains/strains have a direct overstretching/tearing effect to our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints it can become very difficult to perform routine day-to-day activities.   Why does it become difficult to perform our day to day activities, well that’s because all of these tissues are designed to help us move and function and when these tissues have damaged a variety of symptoms occur. 

Whiplash Symptoms Explained

These symptoms range from neck pain, headaches, shoulder pain, back pain, pain in the extremities, burning, numbness/tingling, dizziness, visual disturbances, trouble swallowing, and fatigue.  In many instances, these symptoms may not present for a period of 12-24 hours with some symptoms not presenting for several days or weeks.  

You may be wondering why these symptoms can take time to appear well that is because the body is going through an inflammatory process and these things take time.  After an injury, your body produces adrenaline allowing the body to better function during the initial stages of a stressful situation, such as an injury. As the adrenaline wears off, the body begins to experience swelling and stiffening of the injured tissues, aka inflammation.  Thus resulting in a variety of symptoms you may be experiencing.  

To better explain the slew of symptoms that one can experience from whiplash we must understand more of the mechanics of the injury and its effect on how the body functions.  Looking back to the sprain/strains that are resultant from the subsequent jerking motion of whiplash.   Specific areas of the body are affected, all of which are pain sensitive structures. This includes the facet joints, nerve roots, discs, ligamentous structures, and muscles.  One or multiple of these tissues can be affected. 

For example, once muscles, tendons, and ligaments are injured they are going to affect how those areas ultimately move.  These areas are affected by a loss or increase in range of motion.  This change in motion or mechanics puts an added stress on the joints specifically the facet joints.  This added stress leads to irritation and ultimately pain.  Depending on which level of the neck is affected different patterns of pain are produced. 

Imagine a scenario where irritation is occurring to the facet joints of the upper neck.  When the facet joints are irritated here, pain may be experienced around the base of the skull vs. irritation to the lower facet joints, which results in pain around the shoulder blade.    

What Happens when Whiplash Affects the Nerves?

Now we have discussed pain produced by the muscles and facet joints, what happens when nerves are affected?   When nerves are affected in the body symptoms of burning, numbness, tingling, or shooting pain occur in the extremities. 

This occurs due to a compression or irritation to the nerve or nerve root.  This compression or irritation occurs due to the affected muscles, tendons, ligaments and ultimately joints. When they are not moving and functioning appropriately they can impinge or decrease the space in which a nerve is traveling.  

Imagine a garden hose. When the hose is turned on and straight the water comes out evenly and flows well.  When the hose is kinked or bent, the water comes out more sporadically and does not flow as well.  Our nerves work in the same manner when they are compressed the signal does not travel well and our body informs us by producing the symptoms explained above.  

The next question you may be having, what do I do if I have suffered from whiplash and am experiencing the pain described above. 

Well, you’re in luck; all of our doctors at Keith Clinic are educated in understanding these injuries and are able to develop a plan that is unique for your needs.   

How Does Keith Clinic Treat Whiplash?

To begin, our team of wonderful doctors will begin by evaluating your condition and injury by conducting a thorough history, examination, and special testing.  The examination includes an overall assessment of how the body functions including vital signs, range of motion, orthopedic testing, neurological testing, functional assessment, postural screenings, etc.  After an examination, our team can determine if any special testing is necessary including X-ray, CT scan, or MRI.

Once the evaluation is complete we will line out a treatment plan that is uniquely designed for you.  Our treatment plan will be focused on healing your injuries and allowing the body to function at its optimum level.  These treatments can include the following: chiropractic adjustments, rehabilitative stretching/exercise, electric muscle stimulation, therapeutic ultrasound, soft tissue therapy, cold laser, intersegmental traction, and a variety of others.

Sounds interesting or have experienced a whiplash injury, please contact our office at 704-405-7000 and request your FREE CONSULTATION today. 

In good health,

Dr. Cole Valko