Whiplash is the colloquial term for a neck sprain strain injury that comes about from the head and neck being “whipped” back and forth as the result of a short-lived acceleration and deceleration of the body. Perhaps the most common event that can create this is a car collision; specifically a rear end car collision. Other things that can cause it are roller coaster rides and other amusement park rides; bungee jumping; horsing around and similar types of accidents.
Let’s discuss whiplash from a car accident. You’re sitting in traffic, and all of a sudden you hear a loud screech and feel something powerful crash into the back of your car. You hear crunching metal, and maybe even shattered glass. Your back sinks into your car seat as your car is thrust forward from the impact, and your body suddenly stops and reverses direction. You instinctively grip your steering wheel and stiffen your arms to protect yourself, which braces your torso somewhat but because of the flexibility of your neck and the weight of your head, your neck bends back sharply and recoils violently forward, then back again until it rests. In that split second, your neck muscles, not having enough time to react do not protect your cervical (neck) spine and suffer microtears. Swelling sets in; then soon after, neck stiffness. Depending on the force of the impact and other factors such as the speed and mass of the car that struck you; the amount of denting/deformation of your car, and your body type other areas can experience injury as well. This includes the upper shoulders, mid and lower back, jaw, wrists, knees and ankles. Most pain in a whiplash, however, is centered in the neck, upper shoulders and upper back.
I made a video on what to do for whiplash that illustrates a good home care procedure to alleviate the pain and rehab the neck. If you’ve suffered a whiplash injury to your neck, and were cleared by the emergency room of any red flags, the goals will be:
- Reduce pain and swelling
- Reduce scar tissue build up by doing gentle, active stretches, even during the pain period
- Restore joint (verbebral) biomechanics and neck range of motion
- Strengthen surrounding muscles in the neck
- Restore proper neck curvature
You’ll also want to get enough protein (whey protein is the best, followed by eggs and fish), foods high in anti oxidants, and drink enough fluids during your injury rehabilitation. Taking 2000 mg Vitamin C is also a good idea, as it has shown to be helpful in wound regeneration. Lastly, get out in the sun and expose your neck and back for about 20 minutes. Sunlight stimulates Vitamin D synthesis and may have other beneficial effects on the cellular level.
If you were in a car accident and want extra reassurance, find a chiropractor who has experience treating soft tissue injuries. Don’t just go with the office that has the loudest advertising– make sure you are comfortable with the office and the doctor first after asking a lot of questions. I have treated whiplash injuries in San Francisco for over 15 years and have had great success. One of my most useful pieces of equipment for treating acute sprains and strains such as whiplash is the Solaris phototherapy unit, which uses therapeutic light between 660-800 nm wavelength. Light at this frequency actually speeds up wound healing at the cellular level by increasing ATP production (basically, increasing cellular metabolism, which includes waste removal). Once the pain and swelling is down, I initiate manual therapies to restore joint biomechanics and to rehabilitate the surrounding soft tissues to reduce the risk of chronic pain.
If you happen to live or work near San Francisco and were injured in a car accident, you can contact my office at (415) 627-9077.
You can find more information on whiplash on my website.