Whiplash Injury

Whiplash Injury Treatment, Chiropractor, Seattle, Lake Union Wellness

Cue the music! “…Whip your hair back and forth …”

When rocking out to your favorite tune, feel free to bob your head. When Willow Smith’s song comes on and you want to “…whip my hair back and forth…” feel free! Bobbing your head to a good beat is—and always will be—fun.

What’s not as fun: aggressively forced rapid back-and-forth moving your head due to a rear-end collision!

If this has happened to you, you experienced what is commonly called “whiplash”. Specifically, whiplash is a generic term describing cervical acceleration-deceleration injury (CAD). CAD injuries can happen in a variety of ways. The most common mechanism of injury (MOI) is from a vehicle collision. Other common MOI are contact sports, falls, and physical trauma.

Time for a physics lesson

Force = mass X acceleration

This means that a small object, moving very fast, can create a lot of force. Or a very large object, moving slow, can create the same or greater level of force. This is the principle behind CAD. Varying levels of force cause different types of buckling in the cervical spine. Studies have shown that a car traveling just 3.6 miles per hour had sufficient force transferred into the human body to cause damage. How crazy is that!? Just 3.6 miles per hour – most of us walk faster than that! 

Think of how many times you’ve heard people say, “I was going only 20 when the cars ran into each other.” Now imagine the level of damage that could come from 20 miles per hour considering that the threshold for damage is only 3.6 miles per hour!

Studies have reported that whiplash now accounts for 45 percent of chronic neck pain in adults. This is called Late Whiplash Syndrome. Although semi-controversial, there is emerging evidence this is a very real outcome after an acute CAD injury. Likely reasoning is due to problems in the fibrosis of repair of soft tissue, altered biomechanics, changes in the sensitization threshold continuum, and biopsychosocial factors.

Another issue to think about is if your head turned during an MVC; this can elevate your cervical whiplash damage substantially more and thus needs a quicker response to care.

Auto Accident Whiplash Injury

It is important to know pain may be delayed after trauma even though there is an injury present. In order to get a proper baseline of injury, you should see a Lake Union Wellness chiropractor immediately, or as soon as possible, after a CAD. This will allow for the best possible determination of the degree of damage.  Having your head turned amid an MVC can elevate your cervical whiplash damage substantially more and thus needs a quicker response to care. This also ensures your protection medio-legally if you have a personal injury case in an MVC.

A chiropractor will assess the degree of damage with a thorough history, orthopedic exam, and full set of x-rays to determine what degree of soft tissue damage and/or buckling damage came from the CAD injury. The Lake Union Wellness chiropractor will then put together a treatment plan to resolve the fibrosis of repair issue through chiropractic adjustments, work to restore the cervical curve back to homeostasis with mechanical traction and restore muscle stability and reduce biopsychosocial factors with exercise posture neurology retraining.

Other treatment options are to see a physical therapist for soft tissue injury and a medical doctor or physiatrist for immediate pain management.

Treatment duration varies widely and depends on a myriad of factors and levels/grades of injury. Studies have shown treatment duration can be less than 10 weeks for Grade I injury and up to 56 weeks or more for Grade IV. Grade V injuries require surgical stabilization and could require ongoing treatments.

So, when you are in your car and your jam comes on, have at it! Whip that hair back and forth! When you are in your car and someone jams their car into yours, please come see us at Lake Union Wellness right away. Your neck (and wallet) will thank you!


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McConnell WE, Howard RP, Van Poppel J, Krause R, Guzman HM, Bomar JB, Raddin JH, Benedict JV, Hatsell CP. Human head and neck kinematics after low velocity rear-end impacts- Understanding “Whiplash” SAE #952724, 1995, 215-238.

Panjabi MM, Ivancic PC, Maak TG, et al. Multiplanar cervical spine injury due to head-turned rear impact. Spine 2006;31(4):420-429

Poorbaugh K, Brismée JM, Phelps V, Sizer PS Jr. Late whiplash syndrome: a clinical science approach to evidence-based diagnosis and management. Pain Pract. 2008 Jan-Feb;8(1):65-87; quiz 88-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1533-2500.2007.00168.x. PMID: 18211594.

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