Whiplash injuries are challenging because the cause usually gets your adrenaline pumping. Part of the effect of adrenaline is pain suppression, which is why you normally feel stiff and sore the day after. Unfortunately, that often means you don’t realize that you’ve sustained an injury for a day or two, delaying the treatment you need.

If you’ve sustained a whiplash injury, you want to seek treatment as soon as possible. Discover what whiplash is, the signs you may have the injury, and how chiropractic care can treat it.

What Is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to the neck that happens because the head rapidly snaps forward and back. This forward and backward movement causes unusual movement of the neck known as hyperflexion and hyperextension.

The most common cause of this kind of injury is a rear-end accident. However, sports accidents, physical abuse, even amusement park rides and sudden falls can all cause a whiplash injury. Some practitioners may also call whiplash a strain or sprain, but it is actually a syndrome properly known as cervical whiplash syndrome.

Whiplash Injury Symptoms and Diagnosis

As previously mentioned, you may not experience the symptoms of whiplash immediately following an accident. However, you may still have sustained whiplash and should seek treatment quickly. Here are some of the symptoms that you may experience related to whiplash:

  • Neck pain
  • Neck stiffness
  • Arm pain
  • Upper back pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache in the back of the head
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Dizziness

A chiropractor can evaluate whether you have sustained a whiplash injury. They’ll start with a patient history, including whether you’ve been in an accident recently. They’ll conduct a full physical examination. A chiropractic physical exam includes palpating your neck, checking posture, assessing pain level and range of motion, checking reflexes, and assessing muscle power and sensation.

If your chiropractor has concerns about structural damage, such as fractures, they may refer you for diagnostic imaging. This may include X-ray, MRI, or CT scans.

How Chiropractic Care Treats Whiplash

Conventional treatment for whiplash may include neck immobilization with a cervical collar, medications for pain management, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants. Chiropractic care approaches treating whiplash in a different way, but with the same three goals:

#1: Reduces Inflammation

Inflammation is one of the natural responses any time your body sustains an injury. The fluid associated with inflammation helps initiate the healing process because it dilates the blood vessels, allowing more blood to arrive at the injured site. This includes not only red blood cells, which carry oxygen, but also white blood cells and collagen.

However, inflammation can also be problematic because it reduces mobility and causes pain. Inflammation in the neck can also restrict the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, which contributes to symptoms like difficulty concentrating and dizziness.

Chiropractic care works on several levels to help reduce inflammation. First, it helps reduce inflammatory agents like cytokines, which cause the inflammatory process. It also ensures that signals can effectively pass along the spinal column, which is important in regulating the body’s inflammatory response, shutting it off at the appropriate time.

#2: Reduces Pain

Pain is one of the primary reasons people seek chiropractic care in general, including for whiplash. Many people experience pain relief after an adjustment, which goes beyond simply relieving a pinched nerve or a bone that’s out of place.

Rather, studies have shown that chiropractic adjustments result in a biochemical response that helps alleviate pain. In fact, chiropractic spinal manipulation caused a statistically significant increase in blood serum beta-endorphin levels in clinical trials.

Beta-endorphins are a special substance that’s secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain. One function of this endorphin is blocking pain sensations. It also helps with reducing stress, which is why many patients feel more relaxed after an adjustment.

Chiropractic care also alleviates the underlying causes of many kinds of pain. With whiplash, this may be a cervical disc that’s slipped out of place, known as a herniated disc. Proper cervical adjustments can help move those discs back into their proper location, alleviating any compression of cervical nerves.

#3: Prevent Lasting Nerve Damage

Any structural misplacement in your body, be it a disc, vertebrae, or a different joint, can compress nerves. Nerves that remain compressed for more than six weeks can lead to permanent muscle loss and nerve damage. Restricted blood flow to the nerve is part of what happens when there is compression. Any tissue with an inadequate blood supply will eventually die.

Long-term nerve damage can lead to peripheral neuropathy. This can feel like a constant tinging, like pins and needles, in one or more extremities. It can also feel like pressure, a burning or sharp pain, sensitivity to touch, muscle weakness, or even paralysis. If the compression affects your autonomic nerves, it can cause heat intolerance, issues with too much or too little sweat, bowel and bladder problems, and drops in blood pressure.

This is part of why immediate whiplash treatment is so important. Chiropractic care relieves the pressure on compressed nerves, allowing adequate blood to flow to the nerve tissue.

Chiropractic Techniques for Whiplash

People seek chiropractic care for whiplash to get the benefits listed above without medications. To get these benefits, they may use one or more of the following techniques.

Flexion-Distraction Technique

This is a gentle, non-thrusting manipulation technique that helps treat herniated discs. Your chiropractor will use a slow pumping action on the problematic disc rather than the direct thrust technique.

Instrument-Assisted Manipulation

Chiropractors often use an instrument called an activator when there’s a concern about one of the more common pressure methods. The activator is an adjustable instrument that delivers a low-force impulse to specific points. Chiropractors sometimes use this when the patient is nervous or sensitive to other forms of manipulation, such as may happen with whiplash.

Specific Spinal Manipulation

This is also a gentle technique that stretches soft tissue and stimulates the nervous system. It is especially effective when your chiropractor identifies restricted spinal joints, called subluxations, or those that show abnormal motion.

Stretching and Resistance Techniques

When you’ve sustained a soft tissue injury like whiplash, you have to restrengthen the affected tissues. A chiropractor will show you methods of stretching and simple techniques to strengthen the affected area to help it heal and maintain its function.

Therapeutic Massage

Whiplash may cause muscle tension along with inflammation. Sometimes the best way to help release this tension is through therapeutic massage. They may offer that as part of your chiropractic treatment. However, they may also recommend seeing a licensed massage therapist as you recover from your whiplash.

Trigger Point Therapy

In addition to massage, trigger point therapy can help alleviate tense or tight muscles. Your chiropractor may identify specific points that are especially tense and apply direct pressure with their fingers to release the muscle.

Get the treatment you need to speed up your whiplash recovery. Call (425) 636-0303 to schedule your initial whiplash treatment consultation with Structural Chiropractic.