Although the injury seems to happen in the blink of an eye, whiplash is, in fact, two injuries.
Let's pretend that you are sitting in your stopped car at a stoplight when you are hit from behind by a car travelling 10 MPH.
(1) Hyperextension. When your car gets hit, it lurches forward. The energy travels through the car, from back to front. The surprise of the impact may cause you to remove your foot from the brake pedal, causing extra forward motion of the car.
However, your head is an eight pound object with inertia, and is not connected to the car. Even though the car moves forward suddenly, carrying your body with it, your head is the last thing to move forward (unless your head is reclining on the headrest).
Your head remains still as the rest of your body jolts forward. Your head appears to "whip" backward at high speed. This stretches and injures the delicate ligaments and small muscles at the front of your neck.
(2) Hyperflexion. The muscles and tendons at the front of your neck have been suddenly stretched. Your body automatically responds with a predictable spinal reflex: it contracts those muscles very hard, so that your head "lashes" forward.
This stretch-contract reflex can be easily demonstrated at your knee, when a doctor hits your tendon with a rubber hammer. The hammer stretches the tendon from the quadriceps muscle, and the spinal reflex causes a responding jerk of the thigh muscles, which straightens your leg slightly.
The violent neck contraction plus the extra motion forward damages the delicate ligaments and muscles at the back of the neck.
Every auto accident is different. In fact, symptoms may differ greatly based on the smallest of details: Were you looking straight forward or up at your rearview mirror? Were you looking up at the stoplight or down at the car radio? Were you completely relaxed or did you know the impact was coming? Was your seatbelt on or off? Was one arm raised while drinking coffee, or were both arms lowered? Were your hands on the steering wheel at "10 and 2" (not recommended) or were they at the bottom of the steering wheel? Were you sitting straight upright or slouched?
And car accidents are just one way to acquire traumatic whiplash. Whiplash can also come from falling, being hit in the head, shaken baby syndrome, or playing football, baseball, soccer, or other contact sports.
All this means that each case of whiplash is unique. Your doctor needs to investigate thoroughly in order to understand which anatomical tissues may have suffered injury. In fact, up to 50% of whiplash sufferers may still experience neck pain a year after the accident, and researchers have not yet been able to predict who will improve and who will not.
How We Can Help Your Whiplash
Dr. Johnson will take the time to investigate the cause of your whiplash thoroughly. Proper diagnosis is the most important step in whiplash treatment.
Contrary to popular belief, some evidence indicates that some cases of whiplash do not require intense up-front care. Dr. Johnson will take particular care to tailor your treatment plan for the best possible results.
The gentle Activator Methods adjustment will ensure that the already injured tissues of the neck are not traumatized further. Strengthening exercises may play a pivotal role in your recovery. Cold laser therapy may provide immediate pain relief in acute whiplash cases.
Contact Dr. Johnson for a free initial consultation.