We’ve all heard of ‘whiplash’ before. Most commonly people imagine a car accident or a rollercoaster when they hear that term. Well, what is actually going on in the neck during whiplash?
Whiplash is just a common term, the technical name for this type of injury is cervical acceleration-deceleration(CAD). Whiplash makes sense then as even the technical term describes the injury being cause by rapid speeding up followed by sudden slowing that ‘whips’ the neck. The bone is pretty resilient, so, there isn’t often fracture. However, the ligaments and muscles, whose job is it to keep joints stable and add some flexibility, are often the primary victim of these injuries.
You see, the ligaments hold the bones next to one another. They allow for motion, but not too much so that we stay stable. Well, more often than not, the effect of a whiplash on the neck causes for a lot of pulling and can put these ligaments to the test where flexibility is concerned. Some degree of spraining almost always results.
Muscles are also in danger as a person’s natural reaction is to ‘brace for impact’. If you’ve ever had a ball or some other object thrown at you when you weren’t ready then you know what I mean. If a person sees another vehicle coming to hit their’s they will brace for that and the muscles tense and tighten. However, even a minor collision brings with it more force than the muscles can resist. The result is an over stretching and straining of these tensed muscles.
In either case, muscle or ligament damage, swelling ensues. The body will respond to this tissue damage by increasing blood flow and inflammation in order to facilitate healing. Obviously this is painful and uncomfortable, but, it also brings some other potential symptoms with it. If the damage and swelling occurs in the right place, patients can also experience numbness and tingling in their shoulders and arms as the swelling has compressed blood vessels or nerves. Like-wise stiffness and general discomfort are all to common.
Even more frightening is the potential damage to the central nervous system. You see, the spinal cord is protectively held within the spinal canal, made up by the bones of the spine. The spinal cord is suspended by very small, but very strong ligaments between the bony walls of this canal. When the bones are stretched apart or twisted away from each other these ligaments pull the spinal cord in the same way. This isn’t normally a problem, however, when a trauma is severe enough to damage the thicker, and stronger ligaments around the outside of the bone and pull the bones away from each other, you can imagine that the spinal cord will be effected as well. This can even affect the lower end of the brain as when the bones gap from each other their cumulative extension can pull the spinal cord downward from the brain.
This is what can lead to a lot of frustration for the whiplash victim. The healing process can take a great deal of time and cause a lot of discomfort and distress. The standard healing time for a ligament is 6 months; under ideal circumstances. In the meantime they’ll be looking for ways to treat their symptoms and get relief. Well, what are the options?
Much like we discuss in our article on pain management, there are a lot of option for someone in pain. But let’s take a look at best options for healing. When those ligaments are healing, are they healing right? They’ve just been stressed and sprained beyond their normal limits of stretch and now they aren’t holding the bones in place as well as before. So when they heal, will they heal with the bones in the wrong place? We often find on X-Ray films of our patients, bones that have been misplaced and healed that way. When this happens the body will sometimes actually start laying down calcium within the ligament and turn it into bone. You can imagine that a piece of bone linking two others together would spell for a lot less mobility in that joint.
To avoid this, you need to make sure that the two bones that have been stretched apart are back in place while the ligament heals. Makes sense, right? To make sure the ligament heals back to where it was you should make sure its anchor points are back where they used to be. That is where the chiropractor comes in, in the case of whiplash in the neck, the upper cervical chiropractors. Upper cervical chiropractors take a detailed analysis of the bones in the neck and come up with a plan for correcting the misplacement of those bones. While under care, the doctor will continue to check on the healing progress with regular checks of the nervous system, range of motion, and pain outcomes.
If you are anything like me, you want to avoid going under the knife at all costs. That is why taking care of problems like this is so important early on. Leaving the injury to heal improperly can lead to problems with the intervertebral disc and even lead to varying degrees of nerve compression later on. Once the bones have fused or soft tissue has calcified to this point, there isn’t much else but surgery that can be done to attempt to reverse the damage.
Don’t let your injury go too far. Getting in touch with a good upper cervical chiropractor early on could be the difference between a full recovery and long-standing symptoms.
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Dr. Hall’s Upper Cervical Health Care offices service patients from the broader Los Angeles area including Long Beach, Beverly Hills, Carson, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Torrance, Santa Monica, Cerritos, Rancho Palos Verdes, Palos Verdes Estates, EL Segundo, Westwood, Glendale, Pasadena, Eagle Rock, Atwater Village, Encino, Silver Lake, Venice, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Montebello, Fullerton, Anaheim, Whittier , Simi Valley, Santa Barbara, Westlake Village, Alhambra, Culver City, Gardena, Bellflower, Burbank, La Canada, Whittier, Monterey Park, West Hollywood, North Hollywood, West Covina, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lawndale, San Pedro, Marina Del Rey, Playa Del Rey, Valencia, Santa Clarita, Moorpark, Yoruba Linda, Corona , Moreno Valley, Lomita, and other Southern California regions such as Orange County
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