One of the most common injuries that occur as a result of car accidents is whiplash. Known clinically as an “acceleration/deceleration injury,” whiplash may not appear to be a serious problem right away.
Consider this: A rear-end collision that happens at five miles per hour delivers the same force as catching a ten-pound bag of sand dropped from two stories. If catching that bag sounds difficult, consider the force put on your neck and spine during a whiplash injury.
Whiplash most commonly occurs to the occupant of the vehicle that is hit from behind. The actual injury itself happens in fractions of a second when the lower part of the neck (or cervical spine) moves into extension and is bent backward while the upper part of the cervical spine moves into flexion and is bent forward. In this scenario, the lower part of the cervical spine moves beyond its normal range of motion, which can cause injury to the ligaments and discs in that part of the spine. In the event of a whiplash accident, the nervous system responds quickly to protect the body from injury. The muscles surrounding the cervical spine contract to help stabilize the head and minimize impact on the ligaments and discs.
Though we often affiliate whiplash with car accidents, recent studies have shown that whiplash injuries can also occur within the normal range of motion. This is because whiplash isn’t isolated to the over extension or flexion of tissues. The injury doesn’t happen simply because of the stretching of the tissues but is rather a result of the speed at which that tissue is stretched and released.
Think of it like this: Silly Putty has viscoelastic properties. This means that, like the spine, it exhibits time dependent strain. If Silly Putty is slowly stretched out, it can maintain its properties without damage, but if the Silly Putty is pulled quickly out of its normal shape, micro tears occur due to the speed at which it was pulled. The same is true with the tissues in the cervical spine. If those tissues are slowly pulled within the normal range of motion, which is what normally happens, no damage is done, but if they are pulled within a normal range of motion at a high speed, injury (i.e. whiplash) may occur.
There are a number of tests that can be done to check for whiplash, and a chiropractor will be able to detect such an injury even if it seems as though no injury has occurred. In fact, it’s common not to realize whiplash has happened the day of a car accident. After all, with adrenaline pumping through the body and other things on the mind, it’s possible to overlook a seemingly minor bodily injury. Nonetheless, symptoms may pop up later including join dysfunction resulting in a limited range of motion, disc herniation, strange movement patterns, chronic pain and, in some cases, a hindrance to mental functioning such as difficulty concentrating.
The best solution to managing whiplash is to address it if it occurs right away—whether the injury happens as a result of a car accident or through some other jerky, sharp movement that forces an unusual impact on the cervical spine. Optimal health is only possible when the nervous system can respond properly and promptly. Don’t second guess what the body has to say.
Article credit to Christopher Wolff, D.C. founder of Vitality Specific Chiropractic in Seattle, WA and proud Sherman College Alumni.