What Happens in "Whiplash?"

Whiplash is a slang term for an injury that occurs to the neck after the head has been literally “whipped” either forwards and backwards or sideways after a sudden jar such as in a slip / trip and fall, a physical assault, or a motor vehicle collision. But what REALLY happens in a “whiplash” injury? To answer this, let’s talk about: 1. The mechanism of injury; 2. The different types of injuries; and 3. The treatment options.

1. The Mechanism of injury: Let’s take the example of a rear-end crash from a motor vehicle collision (MVC). In this scenario, the “target” vehicle is struck from behind by the “bullet” vehicle propelling it forwards.

All of this occurs in LESS TIME than what we can NORMALLY voluntarily contract a muscle, which takes about 500 msec., so even when we anticipate the impending crash and we brace ourselves, we can’t really stop our neck from going through these movements.

2. Types of injuries: The term “sprain” refers to ligament (tough non-elastic tissue that holds bone to bone) injury and “strain” muscle/tendon (elastic tissues that move our bones) injury. There are 3 grades of sprain & strains (mild, moderate, and severe). When these tissues are injured, there is usually a loss of movement and neck pain but not arm numbness or pain. When there is nerve injury, there is arm pain, numbness, and/or weakness and generally, this is more serious but usually manageable without the need for surgery. When fractures occur, it’s either stable or unstable and may require surgery and/or a rigid collar.

3. Treatment: Most whiplash injuries are safely managed by chiropractic approaches (fractures are the exception). Studies have shown that early movement results in a better result than wearing a collar or not allowing movement. Therefore, performing gentle mobilization and manipulation as soon as such actions can be tolerated by the patient usually favor a better outcome or result.  There are many different techniques your doctor of chiropractic can use to help speed up the recovery process. Prompt treatment is important!