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Today the largest single contributor to chronic neck and back pain is motor vehicle crashes. In a series of human volunteer crash tests of low speed rear impact collisions, it was reported that the threshold for cervical spine soft tissue injury was only 8km per hour! It has also been found that motor vehicle accident soft tissue injuries of the neck are increasing despite a decrease in motor accident fatalities. These injuries can result in a substantial level of disablement even following a rear-end collision that seemed relatively minor at the time of the crash. (Reference: Journal of Musculoskeletal Pain. A prospective study of acceleration-extension injuries following rear-end motor vehicle crashes. Vol.81/2. 2000. p.97-113).
One of the most frequent injuries from motor vehicle accidents, is whiplash. Many people associate whiplash injuries solely with car accidents, however did you know that playing football or rugby, taking a nasty fall or even a violent sneeze can produce a whiplash-type injury?! Whiplash is a condition which may affect the joints of the spine (subluxation), the muscles and tendons (strains), or the disc (bulges or tears).
Some symptoms of whiplash include:
Restriction in neck movement
Neck stiffness, pain or discomfort
Soreness at the front of the neck
Inability to concentrate or memory loss
Ringing in the ears
‘Pins & Needles’ in the hands or fingers
Trouble with balance or equilibrium
Numbness in extremities
Disc injuries include:
When a disc becomes herniated it loses its normal shape. This may create pressure on the spinal nerves.
Did you know…that more than 50% of whiplash injuries also result in trauma to the lower back? Other conditions attributed to whiplash include Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Fibromyalgia is the third most common diagnosis made by rheumatologists, and as many as 25% of diagnosed cases are attributed to an earlier traumatic event, of which whiplash ranks number one in frequency.
It is a sad fact that the whiplash injury is often overlooked by the family practitioner or emergency room doctor. Often their focus will be on the possibility of fractures, dislocations, head trauma or other very serious conditions. While these are very important conditions to investigate; no
less important is the condition of whiplash. Unless neck injury is readily apparent and patients express feelings of pain or discomfort, whiplash is often given low priority in the hospital emergency room.
Often symptoms develop immediately following a car accident. The neck may become stiff with inflammation and muscle spasms occurring. Pain may also involve the shoulders and arms, and fingers may ‘tingle’ from pressure and the pinching of nerves in the neck. Headaches are also a frequent symptom associated with a whiplash injury. However….a common myth is “If I don’t have pain or discomfort right after the accident, I’m OK.” Whiplash injuries in some cases can be so minor that initially you may not even be aware that you are injured. So don’t just close your eyes & hope that you are OK! If left undiagnosed and untreated, whiplash can lead to altered mechanics of the neck and early degeneration/arthritis. Even if you feel ok after an accident (with no symptoms), you should still have a thorough examination by a Chiropractor as soon as possible as symptoms can be delayed for days, and in some cases may not surface for many years. This delay in symptoms and the long-term consequences make it very important to get a chiropractic examination soon after any accident where there has been trauma to the neck.