Many people suffering from headaches, neck pain and/or back pain are often victims of whiplash, and may not be aware of it. Now, before you say “I’ve never had whiplash”, consider this: Getting rear-ended by a car moving as slow as 5 MPH can cause whiplash. If you or someone you know is suffering from these symptoms, read on; you may find the solution in this post.
Whiplash is the term commonly used to describe hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck or back, and is one of the most common nonfatal car accident injuries. More than one million whiplash injuries occur each year due to car accidents and approximately 6% of the US population have delayed whiplash symptoms. These numbers are based on estimates because not all cases of whiplash are reported, or they are often misdiagnosed as something else.
Whiplash is typically associated with injuries of the spine, however a majority of the time muscles and tendons of the neck and back are injured as well. The injury itself is usually not life threatening, but it can definitely lead to an extended period of pain, partial disability and whiplash-associated disorders which can be severe and chronic.
What is Whiplash?
Whiplash is most commonly a result of motor vehicle accident where the car is stopped or moving slowly and is struck from behind by a faster moving vehicle. As one car hits another, the impact causes one’s head to be abruptly thrown back and/or sideways.
This force from the back thrusts the torso forward as the head and neck whips backward into hyperextension. Immediately after, the head and neck are whipped forward into hyperflexion as the torso moves back. Recent studies have shown that the impact from behind can put the lower vertebra into hyperextension as well. As the head is thrown forward and backward, the muscles surrounding the cervical and/or lumbar spine immediately contract in an attempt to protect the spine from injury. The sudden force stretches and tears the muscles and tendons in the neck and back. All it takes for damage to occur is for the neck or low back to be quickly, forcefully and unexpectedly thrust forward and backward (or side-to-side), even in low impact situations. The more sudden the motion and force of the impact, typically the more severe the injury.
All too often whiplash is diagnosed as an injury exclusively of the spine and this is a misconception. For example, a 1000-case, four-year observational study published in 2012 noted that the “missing link” in whiplash injuries is soft tissue (muscles, tendons, ligaments) damage. The study found that the trapezius muscle may be damaged through eccentric muscle contraction during the whiplash mechanism described above. This illustrates that it isn’t just the spine that is adversely affected in cases of whiplash, but also soft tissue. By focusing on the spine, pain sources outside the vertebrae may often be overlooked resulting in ineffective treatment.
Source: Auger Law
Other Causes of Whiplash
Childhood bicycle accidents can have long-term effects and may be a root cause of pain as an adult. Sports injuries resulting from contact sports such as football, where a player experiences being hit, or soccer players who hit the ball with their heads can also result in whiplash and related symptoms. Other activities commonly resulting in whiplash can include extreme sports such as skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding and motocross. Falls can also cause whiplash, as can any event which causes the head to whip forward and backward, or side-to-side.
- Pain and aching in the back and neck
- Referred pain in shoulder and/or arms
- Referred pain in the jaw area
- Stiffness of the neck or back
- Dizziness and/or vertigo
- Muscle spasms or weakness
- Limited range of motion
- Sharp prickling sensation – pins and needles
- Ringing in the ears
- Difficulty focusing
- A constant feeling of fatigue
Additional Chronic/Severe Whiplash Symptoms
- Feelings of anger and frustration
- Anxiety and stress
- Loss of concentration
- Irritability and nervousness
- Insomnia and other sleep disturbances
- Drug dependency especially when pain medication is prescribed
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
If you’ve ever been in a car accident, even at a very low rate of speed and have experienced any of the above symptoms, there’s a good chance you’ve suffered a whiplash injury. Even mild conditions can lead to other problems, and unless treated properly may become debilitating over time.
In the past, the initial treatment for whiplash was often a soft cervical collar for several weeks. The goal of the collar was intended to reduce the range of motion of the neck and to prevent any additional injuries. More recent studies have shown that this prolonged immobilization actually slows the healing process. If there is no evidence of abnormal spinal alignment, early movement such as gentle stretching is advised. Patients involved in early range of motion exercises have been shown to have a more reliable and rapid improvement in their symptoms.
All treatments of whiplash injuries should start with a visit to your primary care physician and include appropriate X-rays and/or MRIs if necessary. For spine or vertebrae trauma, I recommend working with a reputable Chiropractor to address these injuries as well as put the spine back in proper alignment, if necessary. However, remember that healing whiplash injuries isn’t just about the spine, so treatment for soft tissue damage is necessary as well.
At Sagewood Wellness Center, I focus on first identifying the root of the soft tissue pain and how it relates back to the original injury. I then work with clients through a customized program of Neuromuscular Therapy to help relieve these symptoms. Additionally, I provide clients with stretching exercises to develop range of motion, decrease pain, and help heal the injury.
~Have a balanced day! ~Maria
About The Author
Maria Martos is the Executive Director and Founder of the Cancer Support and Education Program, and has been owner of Sagewood Wellness Center for 20 years. As a Certified Neuromuscular Therapist, Maria specializes in the treatment of severe, chronic or minor pain, as well as injury rehabilitation and prevention. She holds a certification in Sports Massage providing her with expertise to evaluate and address athletic injuries and to help professional and recreational athletes improve their athletic performance. Maria is also Board Certified by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, and offers Holistic Counseling, focusing on Integrative Mind-Body Therapy to help individuals uncover and remove unconscious blocks that limit them from living their best lives. She is also a Reiki Master and Teacher, and has worked in the health care field for over 25 years. Her passion and life’s calling is to help others not just survive, but thrive in the face of challenges.