Neck and spinal injuries, as a result of automobile accidents, are among the fastest-growing health problems in our nation today. The pain of the initial injury may subside in a relatively short time, but if the alignment and mechanics of the traumatized joints are not corrected, a lifetime of pain and disability may follow.
Whiplash is a lay term to describe the dynamic action of what occurs to the body during an acceleration-deceleration injury to the spine. Basically what happens is an abrupt change in momentum of the body which has been paralleled to the action of snapping a bullwhip. Not only can a whiplash injury occur in your neck, but it can also occur in your low back, because of the amount of flexibility in both areas. If you think about it, not only is the tip of the bullwhip snapped but also the handle is whipped in the complete motion.
The average head weighs between seven and eleven pounds and sits on top of a very fragile structure- the neck. Although the neck is a short structure it is composed of seven freely movable vertebrae with 32 joints that re easily stretched and injured if traumatized. Exiting between the vertebrae in the neck are the nerves which run to the shoulders, arms, hands, and up to the head. Common symptoms to pressure on these are headaches, pain, numbness, or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, or hands.
One of the major problems with a whiplash injury is that the symptoms may not present themselves immediately. It is generally known that it may be weeks, months, or even years before the problem shows itself. A panel of surgeons, who met under the auspices of the International College of Surgeons, reported that their studies of whiplash injuries establish the fact that the spinal cord and nerve roots are frequently injured without the person even being aware of it until perhaps several months to years later. While it is true that car accidents are by far the most common cause of whiplash, there are other potential causes: bowling, contact sports, a shove in the back, or even a fall.
Due to the tearing of the soft tissue(ligaments, tendons, muscles), the vertebral joints become misaligned causing direct irritation on the nerves, or indirect irritations due to the swelling which occurs. These vertebral misalignments then lead to not only altered motion of the neck but also produce localized pain and inflammation to the capsular ligaments which hold the joints together.
Prompt attention following any trauma will help to correct any injury which may have occurred, as well as to help prevent this from becoming a long term chronic problem. In addition to attending to the soft tissue injuries of whiplash, chiropractors have unique expertise in treating the mechanical faults of spinal and joint injuries.