Whiplash Part 3 – How Do We Fix it?

Chiropractor - Gentle Neck Adjustment

Last newsletter we discussed what exactly a Whiplash Injury is, how it occurs, common symptoms of Whiplash injuries and factors which determine the severity of the Whiplash Injury. This newsletter, we will discuss the Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention of Whiplash Injuries.

How is Whiplash Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of a whiplash injury is made by taking a detail history of the injury, performing thorough examination and ordering diagnostic tests such as x-rays. The doctor must rely on the patient’s information about the accident. With this in mind, it is important for each patient in the collision to explain all the details they can remember about the accident. The chiropractor will want to have all of the information from all other physicians the patient has seen for the accident.

With regards to Whiplash injuries, there are few other musculoskeletal injuries that have been studied and researched in such detail as this type of injury. Depending on the degree of injury, symptoms and other findings discovered in the physical examination and history, a grading system is often applied which relates to the degree of injury. This grading system is often also used as a guideline to determine the type and length of treatment required, and sometimes the prognosis (what to expect in the future).

Are X-Rays Helpful to see how much damage was done?Whiplash 7

The answer is yes. However, x-rays have their limitations. A trained chiropractor can determine if there is a fracture or dislocation of a spinal bone. Additionally, they can look for the classic “straight neck” appearance commonly called “whiplash spine”.

While these findings may assist the doctor in determining an approach to treatment, there are many other structures that cannot be seen on x-rays. These include the discs, nerve roots, muscles, tendons, spinal cord, ligaments, and capsules that surround each joint. Therefore, your doctor relies on the examination findings, and may even order additional diagnostic tests, such as MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), CT (computerized tomography) or NCV (nerve conduction velocity), to see if these structures have also been damaged, and to what extent.

Why does chiropractic treatment help with whiplash injuries?

Whiplash, like other injuries, sets up the following cascade of events:

  • An initial injury causes inflammation (swelling) of tissues and pain.
  • This results in spasm of the muscles surrounding the injured area.
  • As a result of the muscular “bracing”, the joints where these muscles attach stop moving normally, which forces the adjacent joints to move more than they usually should.
  • This leads to a loss of the normal range of motion in that area.
  • The loss of motion creates more inflammation and pain, and this vicious cycle repeats itself again and again.

Amongst other things, chiropractic treatment focuses on restoring as much normal motion and function as possible to the injured areas. As a result, this vicious cycle is interrupted and healing occurs.

What can I do to get better?

There is often no simple answer. However, following your chiropractor’s recommendations will most likely help a great deal. These will likely include:

  • Modifications of your normal daily activities such as work, posture, sleeping, bathing and dressing.
  • Instructions to minimize the risk of damaging your spine even further while performing work duties such as sitting, standing, bending, lifting, squatting, and computer use.
  • Treatment may initially include the use of ice to help control inflammation, rest, and light range of motion exercises. As the pain decreases, chiropractic adjustments are applied, along with electrical physical therapies, massage therapy, and nutritional supplements. As the healing progresses, stretching and strengthening exercises are recommended at the appropriate timing to further strengthen those injured and weakened tissues.

There is a very specific sequence of therapy and it is important that your chiropractic monitor your progress so that these therapies can be introduced in the best and most efficient manner to ensure your tissues heal properly and strong. This will help to minimize future problems from the whiplash injury.

Chiropractors are well- known for helping patients overcome the injuries in whiplash – and not just for the relief of pain, but for maximum restoration of lost function. If you’ve been in an accident and think you think you might have whiplash, no matter how minor, schedule a chiropractic appointment. You’ll be glad you did! The sooner you seek treatment, the better the outcome!

Whiplash Part 2 – What factors make it worse and when do you start to feel it?

Whiplash iStock_neckpain(3)Last newsletter we introduced the topic of Whiplash Injuries – what it is, and what it feels like. This newsletter we cover the various factors that can influence the severity of the injury.

Whiplash injuries are the most common injury to arise out of rear-end collisions, although they can also occur during other activities such as certain sports – most commonly snowboarding (well, perhaps not with this year’s snow conditions!). Nearly 200 rear-end collisions happen each day in British Columbia alone. Whiplash injuries account for more than 65% of all bodily injury claims (Navan et al., 2000).

When do you start to feel the symptoms?

The answer is not that straightforward. We do know that generally the earlier the symptoms occur, the more severe damage tends to be. However, it is common for symptoms to be delayed for days, weeks, or even months after an injury occurs. Unfortunately, this leaves patients believing that they have not been injured when in fact they have. For these reason, it is very important for person involved in a collision to be examined by their doctor as soon as possible following the crash.

Factors that determine the Severity of the Injury:

  • Your position in the car (front seat, back seat, etc.)
  • Your age
  • The length of your neck and weight of your head
  • Whether you were using the seat belts/shoulder harness, headrest positioning
  • If you were prepared for the impact
  • Your head and body position at the moment of impact
  • The make and model of your car along with any special safety features it may be equipped with
  • The size and speed of the vehicle that you were travelling in
  • The size and speed of the vehicle that collided with your vehicle
  • Whether there were subsequent collisions with other vehicles
  • The direction of the impact
  • How soon after the collision that you experienced symptoms
  • Whether your seat back collapsed
  • Your health prior to the collision such as pre-existing injuries or conditions such as arthritis

Numerous studies show that many whiplash victims have a relatively poor outcome without immediate and appropriate treatment. One such study found that 75% of patients with whiplash still suffer from symptoms 6 months after the accident. Experts agree that individuals with any degree of neck complaints following a motor vehicle accident dramatically improve their prognosis if they seek immediate evaluation and appropriate treatment within hours of the accident.

Next Newsletter: How is Whiplash diagnosed? AND What is the best treatment?

Chiropractors are well- known for helping patients overcome the injuries in whiplash – and not just for the relief of pain, but for maximum restoration of lost function. If you’ve been in an accident and think you think you might have whiplash, no matter how minor, schedule a chiropractic appointment. You’ll be glad you did!

~DR. G