Whiplash is most commonly associated with the rapid, uncontrolled movement of the head as it whips back and forth during a motor vehicle collision. Though different types of injuries are associated with rear vs. front vs. side collisions, the net result is similar: the neck hurts! This month, we will look at several “myths” or untruths associated with the cause of whiplash or WAD, whiplash associated disorders.

This is exactly the opposite! Women are more vulnerable because they have LESS muscle mass, and hence, less tissue stopping the neck from going through a greater range of motion during the “crack the whip” process. Woman with long, slender necks are especially more vulnerable. They also take longer to recover and are more likely to suffer permanent residual problems long after their case settles.
This seems logical as most concussions occur from direct head trauma. However, during the whiplash process the brain, which is suspended by ligament-like structures inside the skull, bathed in a liquid, can literally smash into the inside wall of the skull resulting in concussion just from the whipping action, without hitting anything. Permanent residuals such as memory problems, articulating thoughts, staying on task, and more can result. This is often called “post-concussive syndrome” or “mild traumatic brain injury.”
Often, in the ER after a motor vehicle collision, x-rays are taken and read by the radiologist as “…essentially normal.” This can be confused as meaning, “…then there was no injury.” X-rays only show the bones in the neck and head region, not the muscles, tendons, ligaments or nerves. MRI (magnetic resonant imaging) shows more of these “soft tissues,” not just bone. But, due to the high costs of MRI, x-rays are performed first, and only later, if symptoms warrant it, is an MRI ordered. Soft tissue injury to the ligaments (the tissues that strongly hold bone to bone) can be assessed when we take flexion / extension (or bending forwards & backwards) x-rays, but many times these are not ordered in the ER.
Though time for healing plays a role in recovery following all injuries, many patients find this approach fails and their pain persists. In fact, studies suggest that mobilization and manipulation performed as soon as possible after a whiplash injury yields significantly better outcomes than wearing a cervical collar and not moving the neck. Whiplash injuries, when not properly treated, often results in permanent loss of motion, pain, headache, and more. The days of rest and time only should be replaced by the sports medicine model of hot/cold packs, modalities such as interferential, pulsed magnetic stimulation, light or laser therapy, manipulation, massage, traction and guided exercise. Not, “…wait and watch.”
Injury to the neck most commonly occurs due to the rapid, uncontrolled whipping action of the head, forcing the neck to move well beyond its normal range of motion in a forwards/backwards direction (if it’s a front or rear-end collision) or, at an angle if the head is rotated or when the strike occurs at an angle. When this occurs, the strong ligaments that hold the bones together stretch and tear in a mild, moderate, or severe degree, depending on the amount of force. Once stretched, increased motion between the affected vertebra results as ligaments, when stretched, don’t repair back to their original length and, just like a severe ankle sprain, future problems can result. This excess motion between vertebra can result in an accelerated type of arthritis and is often seen within five years following a cervical sprain or whiplash injury.
It’s safe to say that wearing seat belts saves lives and, it’s the law! So, WEAR YOUR SEAT BELTS! They protect us from hitting the windshield or worse, being ejected from the vehicle. But, as far as preventing whiplash, in some cases (low speed impacts where most of the force is transferred to the car’s occupants), the opposite may actually be true. (This is not an excuse to not wear a seatbelt!) The reason seat belts can add to the injury mechanism is because when the chest or trunk is held tightly against the car seat, the head moves through a greater arc of motion than it would if the trunk were not pinned against the seat, forcing the chin further to the chest and/or the back of the head further back. The best way to minimize the whiplash injury is to have a well-designed seat belt system where the height of the chest harness can be adjusted to the height of the driver so that the chest restraint doesn’t come across the upper chest or neck. Move the side adjustment so the chest belt crosses between the breasts (this also reduces injury risk to the breasts) and attaches at or near the height of the shoulder (not too high). Another preventer of whiplash is positioning the head restraint high enough (above the ears typically) and close to the head (no more than ½ to 1 inch) so the head rest stops the backwards whipping action. Also, keep the seat back more vertical than reclined so the body doesn’t “ramp” up the seat back forcing the head over the top of the head restraint.

Think You Have Whiplash?

Rest assured that prompt chiropractic care is the best approach for treatment of the whiplash injured patient.