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Whiplash Injuries

Watch Out for Whiplash Injuries 
Gregg C. Anderson, D.C.

     Auto accident injuries can be very serious. Research has demonstrated their devastating effects can last a lifetime.  I have found that there is a lot of confusion about whiplash.  I hope this helps.

    To test your previous knowledge, try your best to guess the correct answer to the following quiz: What is a whiplash?  A). A whiplash is a french dessert, much like crème brule.  B). A whiplash is a disciplinary tool much like grandpa's switch, but worse.  C). A fake diagnosis used by people who like to wear the new Italian charm neck collars.  D). It occurs when butterfly kisses get out of control.  E). An injury caused by sudden movements of the head and neck. 

    If you guessed "E," very carefully give yourself a pat on the back. You're absolutely correct.  Whiplash can be a severe injury.  Like many others, I once had little understanding of whiplash injuries. 

    Way back in 1988, a few years before I was a chiropractor, I was driving down Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights in moderate traffic when another driver pulled out quickly from a side street and collided head-on with me and my beloved Honda Civic wagon.  My car was "totalled" and my reaction was like many others; first surprise, then anger, then pain.  It was truly shocking.   Thankfully a CHP officer arrived and took a report, which revealed an all too common finding regarding the guilty driver.  He had no license, no insurance and no registration on the car, and according to his statement, was "on my way to get them when this happened." 

   The first lesson I learned was to always have good insurance including medical payments and uninsured motorist coverage.  Thankfully, I did. 

    Over the next few days, my neck and back became tighter and very sore.  I started getting quite irritable and actually depressed.  I was fatigued and miserable. Up to that point in my life, I had never felt as bad.  A few days later I made it over to Kaiser to get some help.  The doctor there looked me over, at my insistence took some x-rays, and then gave me some prescriptions including muscle relaxants and pain-killers.  I also managed to get a few physical therapy appointments.  The medications took the edge off the pain but made me feel like a strung-out druggy.  The physical therapy provided minimal relief that lasted a few hours.  After a couple weeks, I was starting to feel a bit hopeless.   

    I finally called a friend and college roommate from CSU, Chico who had become a chiropractor.  He recommended that I come to see him at his office in Tracy.  He did a thorough exam, told me exactly what was going on and gave me my first adjustment.  For the first time in weeks, I was a happier camper!  He referred me to a chiropractor in Sacramento who took great care of me, and within a short time, I was feeling much better and full of hope for a good recovery.  I was very thankful to have my health back. 

    The second lesson I learned, of course, was to seek appropriate care for this type of injury.

    You may be wondering what actually happens with a whiplash injury.  A whiplash can occur whenever you experience a sudden impact.  Most whiplash injuries occur while sitting stationary in your car and are rear-ended by another car.  In the split second before you can brace yourself, your car is pushed forward.  Upon impact, your body is pushed deeply into your seat.  Your head, being isolated by your neck delays its reaction while your body quickly reaches the limit of your seat.  Then, in a split second, your head changes directions and moves forward to the limit of your seat belt.  Then, at last, your head starts moving backwards in the opposite direction.   Because your neck is unrestrained by your seat belt, your head is jerked back and then forward beyond its normal limits.  It is this "whipping" action of the head that causes injury to the delicate neck structures. 

    What's interesting is that it sometimes takes several days, usually about three, before many of the common symptoms such as headaches, neck pain and loss of motion occur.  It can take time for the swelling from the micro-tears in the injured ligaments and muscles to accumulate and become irritating.  When the integrity of the supportive ligaments is compromised by injury, the muscles get tight to "splint" or guard the injured structures and delicate nerves from further injury. 

    Over the following few weeks, chemicals released from the injured tissues attract little "spiderman-like" cells to the area called fibroblasts.   These cells make a scar or patch material called fibrin to heal and repair the injury.  It is essential during these few weeks of repair and healing to restore normal ranges of motion and spinal alignment.  If this is not done, the spinal misalignments caused by the injury may end up with a haphazard array of scar tissue that will limit future normal functioning and lead to spinal degeneration. 

    Specific chiropractic adjustments, therapy and exercise can ensure that you have the best functional restoration.  This will greatly decrease the likelihood of chronic pain and stiffness, disc degeneration, and pinched nerves.  With stabilization and strengthening of your spinal structures, your vulnerability for future injuries is also decreased.  If you have a whiplash, get checked by a chiropractor ASAP!

Copyright Gregg C. Anderson, D.C. 2002

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