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A hyperextension and flexion injury to the neck, often a result of being struck from behind, as by a fast-moving vehicle in a car accident.
The mechanics of whiplash injury are thought to be as follows:
The victim may be first pushed or accelerated forward, pushing the body forward, but the head remains behind momentarily, rocking up and back, and some muscles and ligaments in and around the spine may be stretched or torn. These muscles, in a reflex action, contract to bring the head forward again, to prevent excessive injury. There may be overcompensation when the head is traveling in a forward direction as the vehicle decelerates. This may rock the head violently forward, stretching and tearing more muscles and ligaments.
Chiropractors are trained to diagnosis and treat many of the injuries that are typically associated with whiplash. Your chiropractor will perform a thorough history and physical examination, may request x-rays or other imaging if necessary, will provide treatment to the soft tissues and joints as necessary, and will teach you proper home care for your injuries. Treatment can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months depending on the severity of injury. The chiropractor evaluates your spine as a whole—even if you go to the chiropractor complaining of neck pain following a trauma. He or she will examine the entire spine because other regions of the spine may be affected (not just your neck).
The chiropractor identifies any areas of restricted joint motion, intervertebral disc injury, muscle spasm, and ligament injury. He or she may use a technique called motion and static palpation—diagnostic techniques that involve touch. Your chiropractor will also feel for tenderness, tightness, and how well your spinal joints move.
He or she will also analyze how you walk, and take note of your posture and spinal alignment. These details will help the chiropractor understand your body's mechanics and how your spine works, helping with the diagnosis process.
Soon after whiplash occurs—in the acute phase—the chiropractor will work on reducing neck inflammation. He or she may also use gentle stretching and manual therapy techniques (eg, muscle energy therapy, a type of stretching).
The chiropractor may also recommend you apply an ice pack on your neck and/or a light neck support to use for a short period of time. As your neck becomes less inflamed and the pain decreases, your chiropractor will perform gentle spinal manipulation or other techniques to restore normal motion to the your neck's spinal joints.
Chiropractic Treatments for Whiplash
Your treatment plan depends on the severity of your whiplash injury. The most common chiropractic technique is spinal manipulation. Some spinal manipulation techniques commonly used are:
In addition to spinal manipulation, the chiropractor may also use manual therapy to treat injured soft tissues (eg, ligaments and muscles). Some examples of manual therapies your chiropractor may use are:
A systematic review of chiropractic management of adults with Whiplash-Associated Disorders: recommendations for advancing evidence-based practice and research. Shaw L., Descarreaux M., Bryans R., Duranleau M., Marcoux H., Potter B., Ruegg R., Watkin R. and White E. Work. 2010;35(3):369-94. doi: 10.3233/WOR-2010-0996.
Treatment of whiplash-associated disorders--part I: Non-invasive interventions. Conlin A., Bhogal S., Sequeira K. and Teasell R. Pain Res Manag. 2005 Spring;10(1):21-32.
Chiropractic treatment of chronic 'whiplash' injuries. Woodward M.N., Cook J.C., Gargan M.F. and Bannister G.C. Injury. 1996 Nov;27(9):643-5.