Dr. Gary Olson helps patients recover from whiplash injuries and resume a normal life. With over 20 years of experience, Dr. Olson uses various techniques — including chiropractic care, Active Release Techniques (A.R.T.), Physical Therapy, Trigger Point Therapy, and Cold Laser Therapy — to bring relief from pain and restore a normal range of motion.
Whiplash injuries can happen in a fraction of a second. Sometimes, especially during a low-speed impact, you are not aware of the injury until days later. Whiplash can happen from side impacts as well as rear impacts. The key element is how quickly and violently your head is jerked from front to back or side to side. Whiplash injuries can occur in half the time it takes for the muscles in your neck to tighten up and brace for impact.
While commonly associated with auto accidents, whiplash injuries can happen while playing sports. Some sports like boxing, hockey, football, soccer, and other sports with physical contact have been known to produce whiplash injuries. Slip and fall injuries at home and work can as well. Whiplash injuries can occur anytime your head is whipped violently in any direction.
Whiplash is comparable to the cracking of a whip. Whiplash injuries happen when your head is trying to catch up with the rest of your body, and then accelerates to an even faster rate, passing your body, and then abruptly gets yanked to a stop and then thrown back the other way. This all occurs in 80 to 150 milliseconds, much faster than the 200 milliseconds it takes your neck to brace for impact.
During a motor vehicle accident, as you get hit from behind, your upper body hurtles forward first, leaving your head and neck behind. Then your neck tries to catch up with your body and starts to move forward, then your head catches up and passes your body. Studies have shown that during whiplash your neck contorts into an S-shape from a proper backward-facing C-shape. Because the average head weighs between 8-10 pounds, it is like a bowling ball on the end of your neck getting whipped back and forth. When your body’s forward motion is jerked to a stop by your seatbelt, your head and neck are still moving forward, and then, your head is whipped backward into the headrest. The weight of your head pulls the top of your neck one way (flexion) while your body is pulling the bottom of your neck the other way (hyperextension).
In a whiplash injury, your brain goes through similar trauma. While your head begins to move forward, your brain takes longer to move. Your brain can bang back and forth against your skull. Your brain is floating in cerebrospinal fluid and has two densities. The inner white matter is denser than the outer grey matter. Because the brain has two densities, which can also move at different speeds, depending on the severity of the accident. The axons (the long threadlike part of a nerve cell), which connect the white and grey matters and carry the neuron impulses of the brain, can become stretched and even torn during a whiplash injury. This is called "axonal shearing" and is considered a mild traumatic brain injury. Since this can happen in a fraction of a second, and you may not even get a bump on your head or be initially aware that you sustained an injury.
During a T-bone accident, a whiplash injury occurs when your head is whipped side to side rather than back and forth. This particular type of whiplash can cause a lot of spinal problems and nerve damage as the little joints on the side of your neck (cervical spine) called uncinate processes or joints of luschka become damaged.
While every accident is different, and every person can experience different levels of injuries, here are some of the common injuries you can expect during whiplash injuries.
Whiplash injuries can include:
Depending on the severity of your injuries and your physical condition, the amount of time the healing process takes can vary greatly. Broken bones heal in 6-8 weeks, while ligament damage can take 2-12 months to heal. In a worst-case scenario, ligament injuries may never fully recover and you could develop chronic pain.
During tendon injuries, micro tears often happen. The collagen fibers in the tendon are supposed to heal in a parallel fashion but can heal in a crisscross fashion when not treated properly causing pain, inflammation, nerve interference, decreased range of motion in a joint, and the buildup of scar tissue.
The Journal of Orthopaedic Medicine published a study that showed that "74% of whiplash patients showed improvement with chiropractic care, and conventional treatment with whiplash patients was disappointing." The proper course of action after an accident is to get a chiropractic checkup to evaluate any injury that may have occurred — even if you think you are fine. It is always better to find out that you are fine than to let an injury go untreated that needs to be corrected. When whiplash injuries are left untreated, you may end up with additional problems and degenerative diseases.
Dr. Olson starts with a full and thorough consultation. It is very important for a whiplash injury patient, during the consultation, to make us aware of any symptoms they are experiencing because of their injuries. Some symptoms like memory loss, nausea, dizziness, an inability to concentrate, blurred vision, and hesitation in initiating speech may point to mild traumatic brain injury for which we will need to order special tests. After our consultation, we will do an examination with neurological, orthopedic, and physical exam tests. Additionally, we will send out for any necessary x-rays of the spine. With any whiplash injury, we will also send out for what is called flexion and extension films of the neck so we can properly evaluate any ligament damage to the neck, such as any of the bones sliding forward or backward more than they should — known as hypermobility of the joints due to severe ligament damage. When needed, we will refer out to any required specialists (Orthopedist, Neurologist). We may ultimately send you out for other tests such as MRI’s, Emg’s, NCV’s and any other testing as needed.
After all the exams are done, we will put together the best treatment plan for you and your injuries. As chiropractors, a primary focus is reducing pain levels and improving function through soft tissue manipulation or osseous adjustments. We also check for subluxations ( mal-alignment of bones) in the neck and back and correct them by adjustments.
As we make adjustments to the spine our goal is to realign the spine allowing the joints and bones to move properly. However, when the spine experiences a whiplash injury, not only does the spine get misaligned, but it interferes with the muscles, nerves, and joints. Additionally, micro-tears in the muscles and in the ligaments that cause a sprain/strain injury will also cause inflammation. So in addition to the chiropractic adjustment, we may use treatments like electric muscle stimulation, heat and cold therapies, massage therapy, as well as rehabilitative exercises to strengthen and stabilize your spine as well as rehabilitate the spinal muscles — working to help you obtain a complete recovery.
Over the years I have noticed about people who come to see us right away after they’ve had an auto accident is that it is easier to fix their spine and to help the soft tissues heal properly — demonstrating how important it is to have prompt treatment. When someone waits too long for treatment their soft tissues — ligaments, tendons, and muscle — will build up scar tissue because these collagen fibers start to heal in a crisscross fashion and create scar tissue as opposed to getting them to heal correctly in a parallel fashion.
Please contact Dr. Gary Olson at Long Island Spine & Sports Injury Center at (631) 462-0917 if you have any whiplash injuries, or if you have recently been in an accident. Remember that leaving an injury such as whiplash untreated will lead to other degenerative problems in the future. If you know someone who can benefit from this article, please recommend it to your friends and family.
© 2018 Dr. Gary Olson DC, PC, The Long Island Spine & Sports Injury Center
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The contents of this website are based upon the opinions and experience of Dr. Olson. The information on this site is not intended as medical advice. The information contained on this website is a sharing of knowledge based on the experience, training, and research of Dr. Olson. Dr. Olson recommends that patients make their health care decisions after doing their research and consulting with a qualified health care professional.
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