So You Have A Whiplash, What Does That Mean?

Just today someone came up to me and asked the question.  THE question.  The one I get often from people that have been in a car accident. Here it is.  “They said I have whiplash. What does that mean?”

Good question.  Fair question.  Too often my brothers and sisters in health care would be graded an “F” in patient communication.  Telling someone they have whiplash qualifies as one of these moments.  All they know is that they’ve been in a car accident (most commonly) and they have neck pain, and they can’t move their neck very far.  But what does it actually mean?

Sometimes I’ve been guilty of telling such people, “Well, you have sprained and strained your neck”.  Honestly, that doesn’t make it much clearer.  I did that today.  (Face palm time).  So let’s take a slightly closer look at what this all means.  Whiplash.  Sprain/Strain.  Confusing terms.

To put it as simply as possible, let’s think about an ankle sprain.  Often this happens when one turns their ankle playing a sport, or stepping off a ledge of some sort and the ankle rolls inward.  Ouch.  When that happens muscles and ligaments are overstretched, sometimes torn, slightly or completely.  The result is pain, swelling, inflammation and loss of mobility.  This is also what happens when someone has a car accident and their head is thrown forward, backward, sideways, or all three.  Muscles and ligaments are once again overstretched and possibly torn.  The same pattern of pain, swelling and inflammation occurs.

Treatment should include ice to control pain and inflammation.  Electrical muscle stimulation to reduce spasm and pain.  Spinal manipulation to improve the motion of the neck joints.  And, as soon as possible, controlled exercise should begin, even if it’s only minute movement.  Studies show that the faster we get movement occurring, the faster they heal, and the longer they stay better.  That’s why we’ll start people immediately (with very few exceptions) on our progressive rehab program for whiplash cases.  Exercise should always be done below the threshold of pain, meaning no sharp pains should be felt.  You’ll hear us repeat that mantra (no sharp pain) often in our rehab area.

Combining our chiropractic care, along with rehabilitation, is the gold standard of care for whiplash injuries.  If you or a loved one has suffered from this type of injury, get them to a chiropractor sooner rather than later!

Until next time….Be Well!
Dr. Bruce