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Whiplash is a term that describes a specific type of injury to the neck resulting from an intense, rapid force, typically from a motor vehicle accident. Damage to the muscles, joints and connective tissues in the neck occur when the head is suddenly jerked back and forth beyond its normal limits.


In a rear end collision, for example, the victim’s car is first pushed or accelerated forward and then is rapidly decelerated, either due to striking another vehicle or because the car’s brakes were engaged. As the vehicle accelerates forward, it pushes the victim’s body forward too, but the head remains behind momentarily, straining the neck until some of the muscles and ligaments are stretched or torn. Frequently, a whiplash injury occurs before the head even strikes the headrest. During all of this, the discs in the spine can bulge, tear or rupture, and the individual vertebrae in the spine can be forced out of their normal position. The spinal cord and nerve roots can also become stretched, irritated or pinched, resulting in nerve damage.


Surprisingly, it has been found that substantial injuries often occur even in even low-speed collisions. One of the most confusing aspects of whiplash injuries is that most people are unaware that they have been injured immediately after an accident. They may experience a slight discomfort and stiffness in their neck or back, but it may take a couple of days or weeks after the accident before they realize that something is wrong.  In some cases, it may even take months for symptoms to develop. Because of this, people often don‘t make the connection between current pain and a previous car accident. But several recent studies have shown that this delay in symptom onset is the norm, rather than the exception.


A common misperception about whiplash injury is that if a vehicle does not sustain damage, or if the damage to the vehicle was minimal, then the occupants could not have sustained a whiplash injury. Numerous studies have shown, however, that this is just not the case. Low-speed collisions can produce whiplash injuries as severe, and in some cases more severe, than high-speed collisions. In fact, in a series of recent human volunteer crash tests of low-speed rear impact collisions, it was reported that the threshold for soft tissue injury was five miles per hour!  How could this be?


The answer has to do with where the force ends up going.  In low-speed collisions, the amount of force sustained by the vehicle is not enough to cause crushing of the vehicle itself, resulting in most of the force being transferred to the occupant.  In higher-speed collisions, the metal of the vehicle crushes and deforms, which dissipates much of the energy of the collision.  If you have ever tried to push a car, you know how much energy it takes just to get it moving at all. Whiplash injuries can manifest in a number of ways.  Nearly all of those who have suffered a whiplash injury will suffer from neck pain and headaches, and most will experience fatigue, anxiety, upper back pain and shoulder pain.


Whiplash injuries can be very sneaky and very debilitating. You may not think you have been injured, when in fact you have. And the more time that elapses between the time you are injured and the time you seek help, the more likely that your injuries will become permanent. Too often people wait to seek treatment until more serious complications develop.


Whiplash is a unique condition that requires the expertise of a skilled health professional specially trained to work with these types of injuries. The most effective whiplash treatment is a combination of chiropractic care, rehabilitation of the soft tissues and taking care of yourself at home. Many Whiplash patients get better with time – usually within 2 to 3 weeks of the injury. Massage is the most effective treatment for breaking up and realigning scar tissue and increasing mobility associated with whiplash. In addition, the therapist may use other strokes and stretches in areas adjoining the primary area of injury to reduce muscle tension and restore full range of motion.


Kristin Stewart RMT

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