Car Accident/Whiplash Injury
With today’s busy lifestyles of racing off to work, school, and running errands, most of us have been in a car accident or at least know someone who has been in one. In fact, milions of people are injured each year in auto accidents. While many serious injuries can occur when a person is involved in an accident, whiplash is the most common. Even though a vehicle may not show visible signs of damage after an accident, bodily injuries still occur. Most vehicles are designed to withstand impacts up to 10 miles per hour without showing visible damage, while a person may sustain injuries in collisions at speeds as low as 5 mph. Research shows that an occupant in a struck vehicle can be propelled at a rate two and a half times more than the velocity of the car itself. This goes to show why people may suffer MORE injuries when there is no visible damage to the car. In fact, more than half of all whiplash injuries occur when there is little to no visible damage to the automobile.
Whiplash is a non-medical term used to describe an injury to the neck and upper back when the head and neck are suddenly forced beyond their normal range of motion, much like cracking a whip. Whiplash typically forces the neck and upper back to hyper-extend and hyper-flex, damaging the surrounding muscles, ligaments, tendons, and discs which support and stabilize the joints of the neck and upper back. What we’ve just described is a simplified version of what actually occurs during a car crash. A more accurate medical term for whiplash is cervical acceleration/deceleration (CAD) injury or syndrome. The exact mechanism of CAD injuries is described in the four phases listed below.
FOUR PHASES OF CAD / WHIPLASH INJURY
When a car is hit from behind, it suddenly moves forward beneath the passenger, similar to quickly tugging on a table cloth and having the contents on the table remain in place. As the car continues to move forward, the seat back causes your torso to also move forward while your head moves backward respectively (like the items on the tablecloth) into the head rest.
As your torso continues to compress the back of the seat, it also travels up vertically toward the head rest causing compression of the spine. Also, due to the vertical rise, the passenger’s head often times rises up and over the head rest, creating a situation where the head restraint acts like a fulcrum, allowing greater backward bending of the neck and increasing the extent of injury. The second part of phase two begins when the seat back recoils from the pressure the torso placed on it during phase one. This results in a shearing effect that is directed through the neck and is one of the more damaging aspects of this type of crash.
The seat back recoil action is now moving the body forward and back down in the seat. The passenger’s head and neck are now at their peak forward moving speed, while the car’s acceleration is slowing down. Passengers are often thrown forward with greater speed than the car itself!
The passenger’s torso comes in contact with the seatbelt restraint while the momentum of their head forces it to continue forward unimpeded. It is during this phase that passengers suffer once again from a shearing effect of the spine in addition to brain stem, nerve root, and spinal cord damage.
These four phases describe how car accidents force a person’s body to move in a non-physiological manner, causing severe injury. During these four phases, ligaments, tendons and muscles are stretched and torn while discs and vertebrae are compressed. The spinal cord and nerves are also stretched and compressed throughout this same process. Brain injury or concussions are also common because of the high pressure gradients that develop within the head during whiplash. We hope this helps you understand the process a person’s body undergoes during a car accident and how even a seemingly minor collision can have a huge impact on one’s health.
SYMPTOMS OF WHIPLASH INJURIES
• Neck & upper back pain
• Low back pain
• Muscle spasms
• Difficulty moving the head & neck
• Numbness & tingling in arms and hands
• Headache, nausea, vomiting
• Difficulty concentrating, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and fatigue
• Vision changes
• Jaw tightness or difficulty chewing
• Ringing in the ear(s)
• Hormonal imbalances
Symptoms of whiplash may not occur immediately after an incident but may take days, weeks, months or even years to present themselves. This is why it is important to be evaluated and treated immediately after any accident, even if you are not experiencing any discomfort. You might be asking why whiplash injury victims don’t experience pain right after the accident. It is due to the time frame that it takes for the inflammatory process to occur. While there are many aspects to the inflammatory process, pain is the physical message that we feel when there is inflammation due to an injury. Many injuries sustained in a car accident are all too often long-lasting, leaving its victims in chronic pain for years to come. If you have been involved in an auto accident, please don’t postpone a thorough evaluation and treatment.
RISK FACTORS FOR A CAR ACCIDENT INJURY
While it is difficult to predict the severity of a person’s injury during a car accident, there are many factors that may put a person at higher risk for injury.
• Rear direction impact
• Crash speed under 10 mph
• Prior neck pain or headaches
• Prior car accident injury
• Head or torso turned during impact
• Small build
• Being unaware that crash is about to happen
• Poor or no head restraint
• Collision with a car larger than yours
Typically, these risk factors listed increase a person’s risk for injury during a car accident, but don’t be disheartened if some of these risk factors apply to you or your loved ones. If you take an active role in your therapy immediately after your accident, you will have a greater chance for a full recovery.
Dr. Mike Sorensen, Chiropractic Physician, is an expert at treating musculoskeletal injuries due to car accidents and is an invaluable resource for victims of whiplash injuries. As mentioned before, the tissues that support and stabilize the spine are stretched and torn during a whiplash injury, which allows for misalignments of the spine to occur. While the injured connective tissue heals, it is crucial to maintain proper spinal alignment and motion. Chiropractic spinal manipulation decreases pain and speeds up recovery time by aligning and mobilizing the joints in the spine and extremities to restore proper range of motion. Chiropractic manipulation also prevents scar tissue formation and corrects muscle imbalances. If proper alignment is not maintained, the changes due to injury may become permanent and lead to an increase in spinal degeneration. Untreated or inadequately treated injuries may lead to a lifetime of chronic pain; therefore, we strongly recommend receiving a thorough evaluation and treatment.
In addition to Chiropractic manipulation, there are several forms of physiotherapy that Dr. Sorensen utilizes to speed up the healing process and relieve pain including electric stimulation, ultrasound, myofascial release techniques, trigger point therapy, and rehabilitative exercises. These adjunct therapies help decrease pain, inflammation, swelling, and muscle spasms to improve Chiropractic treatment outcomes.
Dr. Sorensen frequently works alongside local healthcare providers, therapists, and lawyers to provide a team approach to his patients’ care. Keep in mind that active participation on your part will result in a better outcome for your injuries.