Treating Whiplash with Chiropractic Care

Treating Whiplash with Chiropractic Care

If you’ve ever been in a car accident or been jerked suddenly in two different directions, you may know the feeling of whiplash. Sometimes the pain and stiffness come on right away; sometimes they don’t manifest for days. In either case whiplash is a very real, very painful, and seriously damaging injury if left untreated. Fortunately, chiropractic treatments for whiplash are very effective because they help with pain management and allow you to heal faster and better.

What Is Whiplash?

“Whiplash” is the common term for an injury to neck muscles, generally resulting from rapid forward and backward (but also side to side) movement. Whiplash often is caused by sudden trauma like a car accident, but anything that jerks your head suddenly—even sneezing or turning your head to the left while a child tugs your arm to the right—can cause it.

The injury involved in whiplash is called vertebral subluxation, and chiropractors can readily diagnose and treat it. The damage usually occurs in the neck and spine, but pain can extend to the head, arms, shoulders, hips, and legs. “It can show up as chronic stiffness, headaches, muscle knots, trouble sleeping, or feeling like the neck is not as strong as before,” offers Dr. Rick Gross of Quality Care Chiropractic. Other symptoms may include numbness, tingling in the extremities, and stabbing or sharp pain. It also can affect various nerves, so it can cause blurred vision, dizziness, low back pain, ear ringing, and even issues with internal organs.

When Should I Get Treated for Whiplash?

Whiplash can cause immediate and acute (short-term) neck pain as well as the long-lasting restricted movement of your neck. The important thing is getting it diagnosed as soon as possible.

“The biggest mistake we see is that people will just wait for their neck pain to go away after a car accident,” warns Dr. Gross. “The neck still has damage and dysfunction from the whiplash injury, and even when pain goes away, the spinal joints and nerves can still have problems.”

Dr. Gross adds, “Another mistake we run across is people saying they are fine after a car accident and then pain shows up a few days later. It is important to get adjusted as soon as possible after car accidents, even minor ones that do not seem to cause pain. The underlying damage may be slight, but it adds up over the years and becomes harder and harder to fix.”

Why Should a Chiropractor Diagnose Whiplash?

Chiropractors are excellent for diagnosing this injury because they look at the whole person—not just the pain. Neck pain is unique to each patient, so they don’t just focus on one area to prevent paint and achieve long-term health.

Even if you go to a chiropractor specifically complaining of neck pain after a trauma, the chiropractor will evaluate your whole spine because other regions may be affected beyond the neck. As such, chiropractors can identify all areas of restricted joint motion, intervertebral disc injuries, muscle spasms, and ligament injuries.

Chiropractic Treatments for Whiplash

Because each whiplash case is different and treatment plans depend on the severity, it’s challenging to generalize about chiropractic treatments. They are unique to each injury and informed by the primary issues found during the whole-body chiropractic exam.

In general, in the acute phase (right after whiplash), a chiropractor works on reducing neck inflammation through therapy modalities (e.g., ultrasound) as well as gentle stretching and manual stretches. The chiropractor also may recommend applying ice packs to the neck and/or using light neck support for a short period.

As the neck inflammation lessens and pain decreases, chiropractors most commonly perform gentle spinal manipulation or other chiropractic techniques to restore normal motion to the neck’s joints. Commonly used techniques include:

  • Specific spinal manipulation: After identifying restricted or slow-moving spinal joints, this gentle thrusting is used to help restore joint motion by stretching soft tissue and stimulating the nervous system. Primarily the treatment involves gently moving the joint in the direction of its restriction.
  • Ultrasound: This increases blood circulation to decrease muscle spasms, stiffness, and neck pain. It sends sound waves deep into muscle tissues to create a gentle heat that increases circulation.
  • Flexion-distraction: This gentle, non-thrusting, hands-on spinal manipulation helps treat herniated discs, which whiplash may aggravate. The technique involves a slow pumping action instead of direct force to the spine.
  • Instrument-assisted manipulation: A specialized handheld instrument applies force without thrusting into the spine. This is useful for older patients with degenerative joint syndrome.
  • Manual therapy: This is to treat injured soft tissues like ligaments and muscles and can be instrument-assisted (like the Graston technique with repeated strokes over the injury), joint stretching and resistance, and therapeutic massage aimed at easing neck muscle tension.
  • Trigger point therapy: To alleviate muscle tension, chiropractors identify and target specific tight and painful muscle points through direct finger pressure.
  • Interferential electrical stimulation: Using a low-frequency electrical current helps stimulate muscles and reduce inflammation.
  • McKenzie exercises: These are designed to reduce disc derangement related to whiplash and include simple movements that also can be used in at-home self-care.
  • Stabilization/sensorimotor activities: For whiplash, this approach trains the nervous system to better coordinate and control movement patterns while improving the stability of neck muscles.
  • MLS Laser: This laser treatment reduces pain and inflammation dramatically, even after a few treatments.

At Quality Care Chiropractic, “Our chiropractic treatments include gentle adjustments that only move the neck in a comfortable way, never into painful positions. We also use the MLS Laser,” says Dr. Gross. “Then the plan is specific stability exercises to get the strength and proper function back into the neck. If you skip any of these steps, you remain at high risk of future neck problems.”

If you have experience whiplash trauma either recently or in the past, contact Quality Care Chiropractic in Aurora, IL, at (630) 499-2225 to learn how we can help bring your whole health back to you.

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    I have found that being a doctor is so rewarding because every single day I see miracles happen in front of my very eyes. If I stick to basic principles, I notice the best results. I focus on effective, research-based therapies. I recommend only the therapies I believe my patients need, and only for as many treatments as I believe they need. I keep up with current research and educational seminars to improve techniques and treatments. I treat each person in my office like I would treat my own family – with respect, compassion, and understanding. When conflicts or problems arise, I expect honest, open communication to resolve any issues, and I promise to do my best to ensure satisfaction. I never take for granted the trust I have earned from my patients.