Neck sprains that result from a whiplash injury are not simple problems like a sprained ankle because the neck is involved in a lot of important duties other than simple movement. One such function of the neck is to keep you upright and balanced. Balance is complex and involves coordination between your brain and sensations in your inner ear, your eye movements, and neurological signaling from your neck, spine, and legs.
If any of these areas is affected, then balance is disturbed. You may stumble around more or not really have a sense of where your feet are. In severe cases, you may develop vertigo (a spinning sensation). These symptoms can have a devastating effect on your quality of life.
A 2007 study funded by an insurance company (Coll Antropol 2007;31:823) looked at how individuals sense the position of the head following a whiplash injury when compared with normal, healthy controls. The results were alarming. Patients with a cervical spine injury showed significant impairment of proprioception (sense of position).
Chiropractic care for the whiplash patient can involve treatments aimed to normalize joint function in the neck. Adjustments are designed to restore normal mobility and improve the posture of the neck so that it is more balanced and can move and heal properly. In addition to spinal manipulation, some patients may need specific exercises, even balance therapy, to help improve their sense of position and keep them from feeling dizzy.
So, if you’re feeling unsteady, or are not really sure on your feet, this could be a consequence of a whiplash injury. Because both the brain and neck can be injured in whiplash, the symptoms can be quite substantial. Hoping it will go away on its own with bed rest or not moving the neck can lead to muscle weakness and possibly even more problems.