Car Accidents and Whiplash
Have you ever been involved in a car accident? Whiplash injuries resulting from such car crashes need to receive proper attention. It is essential to take them seriously because symptoms that evolve from a whiplash injury can sometimes take weeks or months to manifest. Thus, you might be fooled into thinking that your injury is not as severe as you might feel, or that you are not even injured at all. As a result, so many people neglect to seek medical attention following a car crash simply because they don’t feel hurt or injured. But the fact remains that the most common form of injury to the human neck is whiplash injury.
So what do we mean by whiplash? Whiplash refers to a situation in which the head moves suddenly in a forward, backward, and/or sideways direction, resulting in serious damages to the vital ligaments, muscles, and such other connective tissues that act as supporting pillars to the neck and upper back of the human body.
Regrettably, by the time when the situation becomes critical, and medical care is sought, some of the damages resulting from the injury may have become permanent. Different studies have revealed that after many years when whiplash victims have claimed and received settlement on their insurance policies, more than half of them complain how they are still suffering from symptoms resulting from such injuries. If unluckily you have been involved in a car crash or some other kind of vehicle accident, never make the mistake of assuming you escaped injury just because you are not feeling hurt.
A better understanding of whiplash
Whiplash is a term that was first used in1928 to define an injury that has to do with sudden hyperextension and which is immediately trailed by hyperflexion of the neck, resulting in damages to the ligaments, muscles, and tendons—most especially those that support the head. Thanks to contemporary advancement in science, we have come to realize that whiplash injuries don’t just frequently occur from the processes of hyperflexion or hyperextension that falls within typical physiological expectations. Rather, such injuries do occur from a very fast flexion and extension that result in injuries.
Whiplash is a very complicated phenomenon which has a far-reaching impact on the lives of people. As a result of this, few topics in healthcare issues discussing whiplash injuries often generate much controversy. For instance, a simple x-ray on a broken bone can easily validate the presence of the fracture, determine and direct the standard of healthcare and professionalism needed to handle the injury. But the situation is entirely different with whiplash. Whiplash injuries are the types that consist of an unpredictable combination of muscle joints, nervous system, and connective tissue disruption, which are not easy to diagnose, and can even be more challenging to treat. For you to have an informed knowledge regarding the nature of whiplash injuries and how best they should be treated, it is imperative that we spend some time discussing the mechanism that governs the occurrence of whiplash injuries.
The Phases of a Whiplash Injury
The moment you get involved in a close-up mobile vehicle collision, every bit of your body goes through a fast and intense acceleration and deceleration. Precisely, there are four phases of whiplash injuries, and all of them occur within a split second! Each phase of occurrence has its distinctive force that acts on the body to contribute the resulting injury. Such forceful and sudden movements can result in substantial damages to the vertebrae, disc, nerves, muscles, and ligaments of your neck and spine.
Phase 1 of a Whiplash Injury
After the occurrence of the accident, your car will be pushed off from you, a process that may cause your mid-joint to lay flat-out against the back of your car’s seat. As a result, your cervical spine will experience an upward force thereby compressing your joints and discs. As your torso is accelerated forward by the back of your seat, your head moves backward; this creates a shearing force in your neck. If it happens that the restraint of your head is properly adjusted, the range at which your head travels backward will be limited. But, the majority of the damage your spine would receive will occur before your head reaches its restraint. Scientific findings have discovered and postulated that head restraint only reduces the risk of head injuries by 11-20%.
Phase 2 of a Whiplash Injury
After the entire event of phase one, phase two will set in. It is during this phase that your torso would have reached its peak acceleration, which could be 1.5 to 2 times that of your vehicle. But at this point, your head hasn’t started accelerating in a forward and continuous rearward move. At this point, an unusual S-curve develops right in your cervical spine same time as the back of your seat recoils forward, similar to a springboard, which further adds to the forward acceleration of the torso. As unfortunate as it might be, the forward recoiling of the seat back only occurs when your head is still moving backward, leading to a shearing force in the neck—one of the most damaging aspects of a whiplash injury. Most of the bone, disc, joint, nerve and TMJ injuries that we see clinically occur at this phase.
Phase 3 of a Whiplash Injury
It is during the third phase that your torso will start a backward descent down in your seat while your neck and head are at their peak forward acceleration. Concurrently, your car will start to slow down. In the event that you released your brake pedal during the initial phases of the accident, it would most likely be reapplied during the third phase. The process of reapplying the brake will cause your car to slow down faster, and the severity of the flexion injury of your neck would increase.
Phase 4 of a Whiplash Injury
Phase four is the most severe and damaging of all the phases that make up the whiplash phenomenon. During this stage, your torso would be brought to an abrupt stop right by your seat belt as well as your shoulder restraint. At this point, your head would overwhelmingly be free to move forward without any hindrance. The result would be a violent forward-bending or jolting of your neck, thereby straining the ligaments and muscles, tearing fibers within the spinal disc, while forcing out vertebrae from their normal position.
As the complications accelerate, your nerve roots and spinal cord would be stretched and irritated. Your brain could strike the inner layer of your skull which causes a mild-to-medium brain injury. In a situation where you are not securely restrained by your seat belt harness, the chances that you may suffer a concussion become even more likely. You might even suffer more severe brain damages from striking the windshield or steering wheel.
Injuries Resulting from Whiplash Trauma
From what we have discussed at the beginning of this article, it is understood that whiplash injuries and their symptoms can manifest in different ways. These include neck pain, shoulder and upper back pains, headaches, low back pain and cognitive changes, as the case may be. Considering the fact that a lot of factors are involved in the overall whiplash trauma like the speed of the vehicle involved, the direction of impact, physical condition, sex, and age; it is not possible to predict or define the exact or pattern of symptoms that each victim will suffer. Also, the symptoms produced by whiplash usually have delay characteristics. It takes weeks or months for them to show. However, there are some conditions common with all those who have suffered from the effect of whiplash.
Neck pain is the most common complaint among victims of whiplash trauma. About 90% of patients have something to say about their neck. Most times, this pain travels across the shoulders, to the head and goes down between the shoulder’s blades. The severity of whiplash injuries tends to cut across all of the tissues in the neck, which also includes the facet joints and disc that lies between the vertebrae, as well as the ligaments, muscles, and nerves.
The most common form of neck pain is facet joint pain. When accidents occur, facet joint pains are usually felt across the back of the neck, closer to the right, left or center. Typically, the pain is tender to touch and cannot be visualized on MRIs or x-rays. Facet pain can only be diagnosed through physical palpation of the affected area.
Another factor common to neck pain is disc injury. It is mostly associated with chronic neck pain. In such situations, the disc exterior wall (knowns the annulus) which features bundles of fibers can be shredded when a whiplash trauma occurs. When that happens, it can lead to herniation or disc degeneration, which in turn, results in compression or irritation of the nerves that run through the area. Such irritation or compression is a common factor that leads to radiating pain on the shoulders, arms, upper back, and may also lead to muscular weakness.
The primary causes of pain you experience in the first few weeks after a whiplash injury is as a result of damages to the ligaments and muscles in the neck and upper back of your body. These are the main reasons why you are experiencing stiffness and restriction in your range of motion. However, as the muscles start having the chance to heal, their chances of causing much pain is reduced as much as they contribute to the level of abnormal movement. When the ligaments receive damages, it often results in instability and abnormal movement.
The next thing that comes after neck pain is headaches. They are the most prevalent complaint among victims of whiplash injury. Headaches affect more than 80% of the people that are suffering from whiplash. Although some headaches are a direct consequence of brain injury, most occur as a result of damages to ligaments, muscles, and cervical spine’s facet joints, which transfer pain to the head. Against this backdrop, it is critical to treat your neck’s supporting tissues to help reduce your headaches.
TMJ is not a typical problem but is a challenging and extremely debilitating disorder that emanate from whiplash. TMJ means Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. It is a disorder that starts as a pain, popping and clicking noises in the jaw during movement. Failure to properly evaluate and treat TMJ situations can lead to a worse state, resulting in headaches, ear pains, facial pain, and difficulty in easting. Notwithstanding, a lot of chiropractors are specially trained to handle and treat cases of TMJ, or can refer you to a more skillful TMJ specialist.
Do you know that most whiplash injuries produce mild or moderate brain injury? This is as a result of the forces that impact the brain during the four phases discussed above. The entire human brain consists of a soft structure, hanging in a watery fluid scientifically known as “cerebrospinal fluid.” Any time the brain is forced forward and backward within the skull, it causes the brain to bounce from the inside of the skull. This leads to severe bruising and consequent bleeding within the brain. Sometimes when this happens, patients experience a temporary loss of memory/consciousness, with mild symptoms of a concussion.
In most case, there is a loss of consciousness, but most patients complain of disorientation or mild confusion immediately after the accident. On the long term, the consequences of a mild brain injury include inability to concentrate correctly, mild confusion, inability to sleep well, forgetfulness, irritability, loss of sex drive, emotional instability and depression. Although this is not common, the nerves that determine your ability to smell, taste, including your level of vision may sometimes be affected too. When that happens, the result would a muted sense of taste, visual disturbances and changes in your sense of smell.
People that experience dizziness after a whiplash injury do so when the facet joints of the cervical spine are damaged. However, injury to the brain or brain stem may also be contributing factors as well. Typically, such dizziness is temporal and improves significantly when chiropractic treatment is undertaken.
Low back pain
Primarily, whiplash is seen as a neck injury, but the lower back of the body is also commonly injured in most car crashes. As a matter of fact, more than half of rear-impact collision has to produce low-back injuries. Low back pain is associated with a three-quarter of all cases of side-impact crashes. The reasons are down to the fact that the low back has continued to experience high-level of compression most especially in the first two phases of a whiplash incident, despite not having the degree of flexion or extension injury common with the neck.
Recovery from Whiplash
Given adequate care, a lot of mild whiplash injuries are treated and heals perfectly within six to nine months. Notwithstanding, over 20% of people who suffers from whiplash incidents continue to suffer and languish in pain, restricted movement or weakness two years after their accident. It is regrettable that the vast majority of those people would continue in suffering from certain levels of pain or disability for more and more years after, and in a worst-case scenario—for the rest of their lives.
Whiplash is one-of-a-kind health challenge that demands the expertise of well, trained healthcare practitioners who are particularly knowledgeable in handling such types of injuries. The best and most effective treatment for all whiplash injuries lies in a combination of soft tissue rehabilitation, chiropractic care and taking adequate care of yourself at home.
Chiropractic Care For Whiplash
The term “chiropractic care” means the process of manually manipulating the spine to restore the normal movement and positioning of the spinal vertebrae. The process is regarded as the most effective treatment that minimizes the long-term effect of whiplash injuries. It is especially useful when aligned with trigger therapy, massage therapy, exercise rehabilitation and such other modalities that revolve around soft tissue rehabilitation.
Soft Tissue Rehabilitation for Whiplash
Soft tissue is a term used to define anything that is not bone. By soft tissue, we mean your ligaments, muscles, tendons, spinal discs, internal organs and nervous system. Whenever a whiplash injury occurs, the most affected tissues are the soft tissues—discs, muscles, and ligaments in particular. It is highly advisable to use therapies that stimulate soft tissues so they can heal correctly. This will help to minimize permanent injury and disability. Such therapies include trigger point therapy, electro stimulation, stretching, and applying specific strength and level of motion exercises.
Home Care for Whiplash Injury
The best, result oriented soft tissue rehabilitation, and chiropractic care will lose most of its benefits if the activities you do at home or your place of work cause more damage to you every day. In the light of this fact, it is vital that your care plan should cover or extends to the days and hours, at which you visit the chiropractic clinic, so it can serve as a way of helping you to speed your recovery. Some common and notable homecare therapies include the application of ice packs, limiting your work or daily activities, performing some specific exercises and stretches, intake of nutritional supplements and giving yourself plenty of rest.
Medical Intervention for Whiplash Injury
Some severe case of whiplash may occur, which will make it necessary to introduce medical care as part of your general treatment plan. The medical treatment that is common to severe cases whiplash includes muscle relaxants, use of anti-inflammatory medications, trigger point injections, and in some severe cases, spinal epidural injections. All of these therapies are suitable for short-term pain relief, and should only be used for such period, if necessary, and should not form the basis of treatment. The reason is, a drug is incapable of restoring normal joint movement nor stimulate healthy repairs of muscles. Fortunately enough, surgical operations are not needed as such, except in few cases of herniated discs—a situation in which the disc presses against the spinal cord, as well as in some instances involving spine fractures
Document your Whiplash injury!
Documenting your injury is something you should always take seriously. You can get your injury documented by a chiropractic physician. Your injury might be one that gives you a residual pain or could be permanent after completing your treatment. From the moment your case is settled by an insurance company, your medical care has lost its covering. Nevertheless, you may require care in time coming, and this has to be documented. Choosing a chiropractic doctor with years of experience is vital, as such a doctor would know the rudiments and mechanism of injuries and their long-term effects.
If you have suffered a whiplash in a car accident, contact the Quantum Medical & Wellness Center and Dr. Popkin, a Plantation chiropractor: (954) 370-1900