Whiplash Injury Relief

WHAT IS A WHIPLASH INJURY?

Whiplash is the most common and also the most severe injury that occurs after an auto crash. If your car was hit from behind, the force from the impact is transferred into your body where it causes a whipping motion of the spine. Your neck will first whip back before being snapped forward. This whipping motion causes extreme shearing forces across the discs and ligaments of the neck and low back, often causing significant injuries. Injuries can occur from whiplash motion even when hit at speeds as low as 5mph!

The injuries become even more severe if your head was turned to either side because having the head turned at the moment of impact changes the orientation of the fibers in the disc and ligaments, making them more vulnerable to severe injury. If you did not see the impact coming, your muscles will not be able to brace either, leading to all of the force going into the ligaments.

Other factors can also increase the severity of a whiplash injury including: higher speeds, wet roads, lower body weight, previous injuries or degeneration at the same area, and even wearing a seat belt! Wearing a seat-belt during a crash can prevent you from flying through the windshield, but it increases the shear forces through the neck and shoulder from an impact. Since the strap only goes over one shoulder, it will also force your body and head to rotate after impact leading to greater injuries.

The best thing to do after a crash is to call your chiropractic doctor and get evaluated for injuries and begin treatment as soon as possible.

Common Cause Whiplash Injury

Treatments to Relieve Whiplash Injury

HOW WILL I HEAL?

The most common injuries from an auto crash is to the ligaments and discs of the neck and low back. The ligaments and discs always heal in three phases – the inflammation phase, repair phase, and remodel phase. It is important for your doctor to recognize which phase of healing you are in after your crash because the body requires different therapies for each phase to reach optimal improvement.

INFLAMMATION PHASE

The inflammation phase is the shortest of the three phases of healing, ideally only lasting 3-5 days. Sometimes the inflammation phase will last longer if you continue to aggravate the area of injury. The hallmark of the inflammation phase is pain. This is the only phase in which you should have significant pain. There is not really much of any healing that occurs during this phase. Instead, your body is using the time to alert you to the injuries, bring products to the injured area that will be used later for healing, and stimulate you to rest by making the area more painful.

REPAIR PHASE

The repair phase is when the bulk of your healing will occur after the auto crash. This phase lasts about 6-12 weeks, depending on your age, overall health, and the severity of the injuries. A child with minor injuries will move through the repair phase much faster than a senior with severe injuries. Your doctor will be able to help you estimate how long it will take for you to move through the repair phase, but keep in mind that it will all depend on how much stress you continue to put on your body.

What happens in the repair phase is the formation of scar tissue. A strong healthy disc or ligament that has never been injured will have fibers of type 1 collagen. Type 1 collagen is the strongest material your body can make, and it is also extremely flexible. After being damaged in a crash, sports injury, or other way, the body will patch the injured area with scar tissue made from type 3 collagen.

Type 3 collagen is weaker and less flexible than type 1 (about 30% less strength and flexibility!). After an injury, the body is primarily concerned with throwing in a patch as quickly as possible, so the scar tissue is constructed in a random pattern. This further decreases strength and flexibility of the area. This leads you to have pain and difficulty with movements such as turning your head or bending backward after an injury. The right treatment will stretch the scar tissue and force it to realign more like the original fibers. This will improve strength and flexibility.

After an injury to a ligament or disc, the body will also create new nerves whose sole purpose is to report pain to the brain. Every time you get injured, more nerves are created increasing the pain signals going to the brain. These nerves are embedded in the scar tissue that was placed over the injured area.

When the scar tissue is disorganized with a random placement, it causes the nerves to get pinched more often, which causes more pain for you. These are also not normal nerves. They are commonly referred to as ‘sensitized nerves’. That means these nerves are ready to send the pain signal up to the brain even for light pressures. Treatment helps with this problem significantly, though. Stretching the fibers of the scar tissue will cause the nerves to be pinched less, resulting in less sensitization (meaning less pain for you!).

REMODEL PHASE

The final phase of healing takes the longest – up to a year after your inflammation phase has ended! There is still some healing that occurs during the start of this phase (about 30%), but the main purpose of this phase is making the scar tissue into something permanent. The body does not distinguish between good alignment of scar tissue and bad alignment and will take whatever is in place and make it permanent.

This means one of two things will happen for you – either you received treatment during the inflammation and repair phases and the scar tissue has good alignment and will heal permanently better or you did not get any treatment and the scar tissue will heal as a permanent jumble of random fibers that frequently pinches on your new nerves.

If it heals permanently bad, the risk for re-injury in the future is high and you will likely develop earlier arthritis and have much more pain throughout the rest of your life. If the scar tissue is stretched and strengthened, then it will heal permanently better and have a lower risk of re-injury and pain. The primary focus during the remodel phase is strength. You and your doctor will need to do corrective exercises to strengthen the area and improve your long-term outcome.