Injuries to the neck caused by the sudden movement of the head, backward, forward, or sideways, is referred to as "whiplash". Whiplash is most commonly caused from riding in a car that is struck from behind or that collides with another object. Whiplash can also occur with sports injuries or slip and falls.
When the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal limits, the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine and head can be overstretched or torn. The soft, pulpy discs between spinal bones can bulge, tear or rupture. Vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion. The spinal cord and nerve roots in the neck can get stretched and irritated. While the occupants can suffer considerable soft tissue injury, the car may be only slightly damaged.
The resulting instability of the spine and soft tissues can result in headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, pain in the shoulder, arms and hands, reduced ability to turn and bend, and even low back problems. As the body attempts to adapt, symptoms may not appear for weeks or even months later. A majority of people involved in whiplash type injuries are unaware they are even injured until months or years later. Just as the wheel on your car can potentially be knocked out of alignment by hitting a pothole your spine can “potentially” be damaged by sports or motor vehicle accidents.
This video shows how a normal cervical spine can degenerate over time from a whiplash type injury.
Current diagnostic techniques cannot always detect tissue damage in acute and chronic whiplash patients. Standard imaging technique’s such as radiography, computed tomography (CT), and MRI are unable to see the tissue on a cellular level where most of the damage has occurred 1.
There is a close interaction between the neck receptors for balance and coordination and the middle brain which controls all the information coming from the body. Chronic whiplash symptoms are a mismatch of information coming from the neck receptors and the body which confuses the brain. This continuous imbalance may create a permanent “hyperarousal” of the brain depending on the damage. Some of the common symptoms seen in both acute and chronic whiplash patients are:
- altered pain perception (magnification of pain) with activity, pressure or rest
- depression like symptoms with loss of energy or enjoyment
- abnormal muscle spasms (tight on one side only)
- brain fog
- jaw pain
- visual disturbances
- alterations in posture (one shoulder higher than the other)
The chiropractic approach to these types of injuries is to use specific chiropractic adjustments to help return spinal function. After a thorough case history and examination, we take specialized motion x-rays of the spine to better identify which areas are not moving properly. The doctor will recommend a series of visits to help restore proper motion and position of spinal bones. If caught early enough, inflammation can be reduced and scar tissue can often be minimized.
Consult a Doctor of Chiropractic before enduring constant headaches, depending upon addictive pain medication, or submitting to surgery!
Whiplash, Real or Not Real? A Review and New Concept PET and SPECT in Neurology 2014, pp. 947-963
Dr. Tankersley's training in Whiplash Disorders:
- Whiplash 1994: The Masters' Certification Program Sessions I-IV Spine Research Institute of San Diego, Dr. Arthur Croft, D.C. M.S., D.A.B.C.O. (1993-1994)
- Whiplash: 2nd Annual Advanced Course Spine Research Institute of San Diego, Dr. Arthur Croft, D.C., M.S., F.A.C.O. (11/97)
- Whiplash: 3rd Annual Advanced Course Spine Research Institute of San Diego, Dr. Arthur Croft, D.C., M.S., F.A.C.O. (11/98)
- Advanced Certification in Whiplash Diagnosis, Treatment, and Management Awarded November 22, 1998 from the Spine Research Institute of San Diego
- Understanding Mechanisms of Injury From Various Types of Vehicular Trauma: Dr. Daniel Murphy, D.C., F.A.C.O., D.A.B.C.O. April 2000
- Principles of Soft Tissue Injury and Repair: Dr. Daniel Murphy, D.C., F.A.C.O., D.A.B.C.O. March 2001
- Whiplash Injury Biomechanics & Traumatology Module 1. Dr. Arthur C Croft, D.C. 2013