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The Many “Faces” of Whiplash

Motor vehicle collisions (MVC) usually result in injuries to the neck and upper back. However, there are often other complaints that can occur immediately or after a delayed time frame. The mechanism of injury or “how did the accident happen?” is very important in this regard. For example, a low-speed crash that occurs at 5-10 mph (or 8-15 kph) may not result in much damage to the car; however when this occurs, the contents inside the car are jostled and thrown about more than if there had been vehicular damage. This is because the impact was too slow to dent or crush the metal and the energy of the crash was not absorbed but rather, was transferred to the contents inside the car: the passengers.

Another cause might be a roll-over accident. If a person is suspended upside down in the vehicle, injury can occur from the seat belt, from falling from the seat upon releasing the seat belt, cuts or scrapes from broken glass, and so on. Many people involved in MVCs are initially in “shock” and may not realize they are hurt until hours or days later. Upon rising the next morning, a significant increase in pain intensity often prompts the person to seek emergency room care where medications are usually prescribed and a “wait and watch” recommendation is given. Within the initial several days to a week, gradual increases of pain and other symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, “foggy thinking,” and loss of appetite due to the high pain intensity can occur, and the person may then visit a chiropractic clinic, as the “waiting and watching” approach may no longer seem like a good idea.

The initial examination findings often reveal significant muscle spasms and pinching of the nerves in the upper part of the neck, which can result in headaches. Patients may have difficulty describing their complaints including problems communicating with others such as, “I just can’t find the words I want to use.” This lack of mental clarity is often caused by a concussion and can last weeks to months. Some patients do well and may feel 50-75% better after 3-6 weeks of chiropractic treatment with respect to neck pain and headache intensity and frequency but of course, this varies from patient to patient. During this time, exercises are usually given to help stretch the tight muscles and strengthen the weak muscles in the neck and upper back region. Temporary work restrictions may be required, especially if the patient had not been able to work prior to seeking chiropractic treatment. A quick return to work is usually very important.

Hence, a “wait and watch” approach usually does not work very well. In addition, the use of medications may prohibit being able to drive a car or adequately function at work. Certain medications can also affect a person’s ability to responsibly manage their children. It can be very confusing for many people when trying to decide from whom they should seek treatment after a whiplash injury. The primary goal of the chiropractic physician is to achieve a reduction in symptoms and return the patient to a productive, functional lifestyle as quickly as possible.


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