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Beyond Whiplash

Whiplash is reported in about two million insurance claims per year in the U.S., according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Also known as Cervical Acceleration/Deceleration Syndrome (CAD Syndrome), whiplash usually occurs from motor vehicle accidents, contact during sports, and falls.

The soft tissues in the neck are injured through the rapid acceleration and deceleration that forces the neck into hyperextension and hyperflexion. Even a minor fender bender can put significant stress on the spinal ligaments, discs, muscles, and nerves of the neck. 

Sometimes stiffness is the only initial complaint, and it is common for symptoms to develop gradually over the course of the next few days. In severe cases, there can be an immediate onset of symptoms. “Whiplash Associated Disorder” (WAD) is a term used to describe the collection of symptoms that have been triggered by a whiplash injury and is also used as a classification system to determine severity.  

 Neck pain, headache, and shoulder pain are the most commonly reported complaints post-whiplash, but the all-inclusive list can be fairly expansive. Sleep disturbances, impaired cognitive function, TMD, tinnitus, low back pain dizziness/vertigo, and problems with balance and coordination are just to name a few.

The neck is one of the most highly concentrated areas of nerves that signal proprioceptive information to our brain. When these delicate nerves are injured, our perception of movement and spatial orientation of our body parts is also compromised. People who have suffered whiplash injuries have been shown to have significant impairment in proprioception when compared to healthy subjects (1).

The long-term effects of whiplash are variable, but current research estimates that 20% of those with whiplash will develop chronic pain (2).  There are several factors that determine prognosis, including those that are related to the environment, collision circumstances, and biopsychosocial factors.

Foregoing treatment is not advised for those who have experienced a whiplash injury. Treatment type and timing of when care was received has been shown to correlate to patient recovery times, and a better prognosis is often associated with appropriate treatment (3).

In the absence of instability, prolonged bed rest and immobilizing the neck after a whiplash injury can lead to a delayed recovery (4). Muscles become weak and contracted, and increased scar tissue can develop, leading to impaired biomechanical function overtime.

Chiropractic care and soft tissue therapies, such as Active Release Technique (ART™), are valuable tools in the restoration of normal joint mechanics and muscle function in those who have suffered from a CAD injury both in the acute stages and in chronic cases (5).

If you’ve experienced the unfortunate circumstance of a motor vehicle accident, or any other whiplash related event, don’t wait to seek treatment. Call us at Evergreen Spine and Sports Medicine to schedule an appointment with one of our Doctors of Chiropractic to get the care you need today.

1.) Uremović, M., Cvijetić, S., Pasić, M. B., et al. (2007). Impairment of proprioception after a whiplash injury. Coll Antropol, 3, 823-827.

2.) Castaldo, M., Catena, A., Chiarotto, A., et al. Association between clinical and neurophysiological outcomes in patients with mechanical neck pain and whiplash-associated disorders. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 34(2), 95-103.

3.) Söderlund, A., Olerud, C., Lindberg, P. (2000). Acute whiplash-associated disorders (WAD): the effects of early mobilization and prognostic factors in long-term symptomatology. Clinical Rehabilitation, 14(5), 457-467.

4.) Yadla, S., Ratliff, J. K., & Harrop, J. S. (2007). Whiplash: Diagnosis, treatment, and associated injuries. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine, 1, 65-68.

5.) Jull, G., Kenardy, J., et al. (2013). Management of acute whiplash: A randomized controlled trial of multidisciplinary stratified treatments. PAIN, 154, 1798-1806.

Originally posted February 8, 2019

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