Total Health
Chiropractic

Can A Chiropractor Help With Whiplash Injuries?

By Dr. Beau Kenihan, Chiropractor at Total Health Chiropractic Geelong

How do whiplash injuries occur?

whiplash infographic

Whiplash injuries are most commonly sustained during car accidents, often occurring when your car is struck from behind. When a car strikes yours from behind, your head immediately pushes back into the headrest. Your body is rocked forward as you either slam on the break or collide with the car in front of you.  As you rock forward, your body is caught by the seat belt and your head is propelled forward, resulting in a very large strain on your neck. Problems with whiplash injury can include: 

  • Fracture of either a vertebral body or a spinous process (these are some of the more common fractures)
  • Ligament sprain around your spine
  • Muscle strain or tear or an injury to the small discs in your neck

If you have experienced whiplash – even mild forms of it – you’re likely experiencing a greater sensitivity to the small muscles around the top of your neck, a feeling like you can’t fully tilt your head, or even experiencing headaches which feel like they are coming from your neck.

Long term implications of whiplash injury if left untreated

Some of the long term implications that can result from whiplash injuries if they are left untreated include:

  • Whiplash associated disorder (WAD)
  • Chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia
  • Mechanical pain problems such as myofascial pain syndrome (MFPS)

These do not always occur, however your body will do whatever it can to protect the injury, which can often mean spasming the surrounding muscles long term and causing more issues. If you have left your whiplash injury with the intention of letting it get better on its own and it’s still causing problems, it is important to get it looked at by a health professional.

So. from looking at what Whiplash is and the long term implications if left untreated, that leads to the big question –

Can Chiropractic help with whiplash injuries?

The answer is –

It completely depends on what sort of injury it is!

If you have suffered a severe fracture from whiplash, you’ll need to go straight to the hospital. If your injury is more mild, an assessment from a Chiropractor may be very beneficial. I have seen countless cases of whiplash where conservative management with a  combination of gentle stretching (especially vertical traction techniques like the cervical distraction stretch), gentle spinal mobilisation and very occasionally soft tissue techniques have helped greatly. With people who are experiencing a more mild whiplash injury,  a careful examination using orthopaedic tests and range of motion and neurological tests is of the highest importance to ensure the best approach. 

What may help if you have inflammation from whiplash?

With whiplash injuries, there is often a degree of inflammation in your neck. Inflammation can be helped with the use of cool packs, gentle movement, rest and time.

Inflammation can get worse if the area is massaged or stretched, so it is very uncommon for us to recommend massaging or stretching the area in the initial stages. Inflammation can feel hot and stiff, and can be extremely painful with  even small movements. Some people see their GP and are prescribed painkillers or anti-inflammatories to help with the pain, while others prefer to use approaches like ice, bracing or using a gentle range of motion exercises. It is best to seek advice from your regular GP regarding medication options.

While it is important to understand the potentially severe nature of whiplash injuries, it may be reassuring to know that the majority of whiplash injuries are manageable and treatable with a conservative approach. Most of the time there is a lot of muscle guarding or spasming, which can be very painful, but will resolve promptly if managed appropriately. If you have been checked after a car accident and no serious injury has been identified, it can be a good idea to see a chiropractor, physiotherapist or osteopath as soon as you can. By seeing one of these allied health professionals, the best management approach can be determined to solve the problem as quickly as possible.

Image source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Whiplash

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