Many people experience whiplash injuries after an auto accident or other trauma where the head and neck experiences a sudden abnormal motion or force that causes it to go beyond it’s normal range of motion. The muscles, tendon and ligaments become damaged. Car accidents are a common cause of whiplash but it can be a result of playing sports and accidental falls. Other terms used to describe whiplash are acceleration flexion-extension neck injury and soft tissue cervical hyperextension injury. Many doctors simply explain it to a patient as cervical sprain or cervical strain.
Neck pain and headaches are just 2 of the common symptoms people experience when they have a whiplash injury. Whiplash can also result in arm pain, numbness and tingling, shoulder pain, neck pain, dizziness, nauseousness and even TMJ.
One of the difficult aspects of whiplash is that the symptoms don’t present immediately after the trauma. A lot of times it comes on days, weeks, months to even years down the road. This is one reason why it’s very important to get evaluated after any trauma.
In 2008 a study was done that showed these symptoms are related to the injury to the neck thru referred pain. Referred pain originates in one area but is felt in another area. The pain signals from the injured tissues activate other nerves in the spinal cord and brain. These nerves cause the brain to perceive pain in other areas that these nerves control.
In a Swedish study, researchers induced referred pain in whiplash patients and pain free people to see if they had a different referred pain response. 12 of the subjects were experiencing whiplash while the other 12 had no pain and were the control group. The test subjects controlled the electrical stimulation levels that were used on the shoulder and upper arm to elicit referred pain. There was a dramatic difference between the whiplash patients and the control group:
a) The pain free control group needed 3 times the amount of stimulation to reach the pain levels the whiplash patients experienced. The whiplash group was more sensitive.
b) The whiplash patients experienced a significantly wider area of referred pain than the pain free group which reported limited amounts of referred pain.
c) The type of referred pain was different in both groups. The control group experienced referred pain that was always distal to the point of stimulation while the whiplash group experienced referred pain that was more proximal to the stimulation closer to the center of the body.
This study helps us further understand the whiplash injury as other studies have also shown that the central nervous system becomes sensitive and over stimulated because of the injury to the spine. More recent research is showing patients who are experiencing central sensitivity are more likely to experience chronic long term pain and symptoms.
As a chiropractor in Freehold, NJ, I have been treating whiplash patients for 14 years. These studies are proof that early treatment after an auto accident or other trauma is extremely important to prevent chronic, long term problems. In our office, Hometown Family Wellness Center, we use state of the art computerized technology to help examine the spine, nerves and surrounding muscles to show how severe the underlying condition is and whether it is acute or chronic. The earlier you are treated for the injury, we can correct the problem so you can continue to enjoy a normal, healthy active lifestyle and prevent further problems down the road. Chiropractic finds the cause and treats it so you can be pain free once again without drugs and surgery.
For more information go to www.ChiropractorFreehold.com or call our office at 732-780-0044.
1. Kosek E, Januszewska A. Mechanisms of pain referral in patients with whiplash associated disorder.
European Journal of Pain 2008;12:650-660.
2. Walton DM, Macdermid JC, Nielson W, Teasell RW, Reese H, Levesque L. Pressure pain threshold
testing demonstrates predictive ability in people with acute whiplash. Journal of Orthopedic & Sports
Physical Therapy 2011;41(9):658-65.