Whiplash Treatment- Treat the pain of your whiplash injury

by allan46 on March 8, 2011

You’re sitting at a stop sign and all of a sudden… your car is hit! Your head whips forward (hyperflexion) then backwards (hyperextension) or vice versa; hence the non-medical term “whiplash”. When the head is “whipped” by an impact, the tendons, ligaments and muscles that protect and cushion the spine can be damaged – as well as injuring discs and the spine itself. When these tissues are stretched or torn… the spine becomes significantly less stable.

Many whiplash injuries occur when a car is stopped and occupants are unaware that they are about to be hit. Whiplash injuries are the tragic result of front or rear-end collisions. Even though the car may have received little damage, passengers can suffer serious spinal injuries.

Almost every person involved in an automobile accident suffers a whiplash injury to some degree!

The term whiplash was first used in 1928 and continues to be used to describe soft tissue neck injury. Other terms for whiplash include – neck sprain, strain or hyperextension injury. The neck consists of seven individual small bones – known as the cervical spine. It provides full support to the head, which weighs an average of fourteen pounds. The bones of the neck are arranged in a specific pattern and structure to support the head. A delicate curvature must be maintained to allow for optimal function.

Three out of five people will be involved in an automobile accident at some time in their life!

If an accident occurs, a whiplash may cause injury to the intricate bones, muscles and discs of the cervical spine. When the bones of the neck move out of their normal position, it causes a restriction in the opening between them – where the nerve and blood vessels pass through. This may result in an irritation to the nerves and interface with nerve transmission and blood supply vital to body function.  Pinching of nerves may reduce function or if severe – complete dysfunction, leading to a multitude of health problems.

Whiplash happens due to sporting activities, accidental falls and assault; affecting nearly 2 million Americans each year. You can get whiplash by snowboarding, boxing, playing football, doing gymnastics or simply cradling a telephone between the neck and ear.

One of the most common consequences of an automobile accident is whiplash. The severity depends on the force of the impact, the way you were seated in the car and if you were properly restrained using a shoulder and seat belt. Tests show that the soft tissues in the cervical spine have an injury threshold of 5 mph. However, most rear-end car accidents happen at speeds of 6-12mph.

If your injuries are not visible, then you might not know something is wrong!

Whiplash injuries can be mild to severe and range from slow healing to long-term chronic pain and impairment. These injuries can be immediate or they can manifest days, weeks or even months after the accident has occurred. Initially, you may think you’re fine due to a rush from adrenaline and other chemicals – but, slowly symptoms develop. Studies show that 50 – 88% of accident victims may continue to suffer pain and some amount of disability for years to follow, especially if not treated properly.

Many vital nerves, muscles and blood vessels are located in the neck!

Even a minor jolt can cause damage.

Although whiplash frequently occurs in the neck, it can also strike other areas of the spine, including the low back or lumbar spine. In addition to pain, swelling or tenderness along the back of your neck and muscle spasms (in the side or back of your neck) – other symptoms, such as upper or lower back pain, shoulder or arm pain, numbness and/or tingling, headaches, dizziness, nausea or blurred vision, may develop. Whiplash can have long-term effects on your spinal health. It can be associated with other spinal conditions, such as osteoarthritis and premature disc degeneration.

Whiplash is a serious injury! Too often people do not seek treatment until more serious complications develop. Even after whiplash victims settle their insurance claims, some 45% report they still suffer with symptoms two years later.

Key to success is finding the cause. In developing a whiplash treatment plan, lab work, imaging studies EMG (electromyelogram), muscular ultrasound and/or Nerve Conduction Velocity Studies may be ordered. The treatment plan may include one or more therapies, which may consist of injections of ligaments, muscles, bursae, joints and specialized injections such as Epidural Injections or Facet Joint Block Injections; Medication Management, Physical Therapy, Therapeutic Exercise, Chiropractic Care and Acupuncture.

Your recovery may begin with a thorough health history, understanding of symptoms experienced, along with a physical examination and x-rays. Via motion and static palpation diagnostic techniques, areas of restricted joint motion, disc injury, muscle spasms and ligament injury will be detected. Tenderness, tightness and how well each spinal joint moves will be evaluated by means of touch. In addition, looking at the overall posture and gait will help evaluate how well the spine is working and moving. If a herniated disc (injured and bulging out) or a significant muscle or ligament injury is possible, a Computerized Axial Tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) or a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test (MRI). CT scans and MRIs will be advised, making it easier to see the soft tissues and any possible injury to those soft tissues.

Physical Therapy may also be necessary. The muscles and joints of the neck are evaluated because it is vital to understand how the neck is aligned, how it moves and exactly where it hurts. Some simple tests may be conducted to check the function of the nerves. These tests measure arm and hand strength, check reflexes, and help evaluate numbness in the arms, hands or fingers.

Once testing and evaluations are completed a treatment program can be instituted to achieve pain relief and restore function. Chiropractic, Physical Therapy or Acupuncture may be an integral part of a whiplash treatment program.

Doctors of Chiropractic specialize in the care of non-surgical conditions of the neck with gentle, time-saving approaches that address the mechanical and neurological causes of whiplash injury. Their goal is to optimize motion in the spine, treat the spinal discs, reduce muscle spasms and improve muscular strength. The treating chiropractor identifies the joints that are restricted or show abnormal motion (subluxations) and returns motion to the joint with a gentle thrusting technique. This gentle thrusting rapidly stretches soft tissue and stimulates the nervous system to return normal motion to the spine. Other options include an instrument-assisted manipulation (considered in older patients with degenerative joint syndrome), Trigger Point Therapy (relieves tension), Therapeutic Massage, Manual Joint Stretching and Resistance Techniques. Immobilization of the neck with a soft cervical collar may be considered for a short time. 

In addition, spinal decompression – traction that may help relieve neck pain, may be considered. Spinal decompression works by gently stretching the spine – taking pressure off spinal discs (gel-like cushions between the bones in your spine). Spinal decompression is successful in treating back pain, bulging or herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, posterior facet syndrome (worn spinal joints) and radiculopathy (injured or diseased spinal nerve roots). This revolutionary treatment method, which may be covered by health insurance – has resulted in canceling surgeries and allowing people to live life to the fullest. Many patients experience substantial, immediate relief of their symptoms after their first treatment.

There are several forms of physical therapy utilized for whiplash.  The goal of physical therapy for whiplash patients is to help reduce muscle spasms, increase blood circulation and promote healing of the neck tissue. For acute pain, the physical therapist may focus on decreasing pain with passive physical therapy (modalities). They are considered passive therapies because they are done to the patient, rather than the patient rehabilitating with exercise. Examples of modalities include: Ice (makes blood vessels constrict which decreases the blood flow – helping to control inflammation, muscle spasms and pain), Heat (makes blood vessels dilate, which increases the blood flow – helping flush away chemicals that cause pain, as well as bringing in healing nutrients and oxygen), Ultrasound (uses high-frequency sound waves to reach sore muscles and other tissues that are over two inches below the surface of your skin, which help flush the sore area and bring in a new supply of blood that is rich in nutrients and oxygen), Electrical Stimulation (can ease pain due to irregular muscle tightness), Soft Tissue Massage (reduces pain and spasms by helping muscles relax – by bringing in a fresh supply of oxygen and nutrient-rich blood and by flushing the area of chemical irritants that come from inflammation), Joint Mobilization (changing pressure and movements to the joints to help lubricate joint surfaces to ease stiffness and reduce pain) and Traction (sore joints and muscles often feel better when traction is used).

In addition to passive therapies, active physical therapy (exercise) is also necessary to rehabilitate the spine. Generally, a patient’s exercise program will encompass a combination of stretching exercises, strengthening exercises and low impact aerobics. Strength and flexibility must be built up gradually – on a gradient level. Doing too much, too soon often causes muscle strain.  Physical therapists also use functional training to help patients with daily activities. This will include a healthy posture program to keep the spine in safe alignment, reducing strain on the joints and soft tissues around the spine.

Treatment programs are designed based upon injuries sustained, previous injuries, lifestyle and overall health.

Other recommendations include staying hydrated. Drink plenty of water to help flush away acidic waste products from the muscles. High levels of acidic waste products in the muscles can cause muscle irritation and pain. Poor dietary choices can lead to chronic inflammation – increasing pain sensitivity. Daily supplementation of Vitamin D can help alleviate a deficiency and pain, according to recent studies.

Whiplash is a very painful condition to experience. Fortunately, with proper care and rehabilitation, you will regain your health quickly.  Hopefully, after a few short weeks, you can begin to get on with the rest of your life, as you rid yourself of pain.






Matthew Speesler, MD treats patients as a whole – mind, body and spirit, with a holistic approach to uncover root causes for many medical conditions. The focus is to build health from the inside out, giving the body what it needs to heal, recover and restore itself.Our Team of Experts and friendly staff at your local East Brunswick, NJ AIMS Clinic, will help you reduce or eliminate pain and improve function.
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