The most common causes of “whiplash” are injuries that arise from automobile accidents or motor vehicle collisions (MVC’s). So, let’s chat about why and how this happens in a “typical” MVC. You are stopped at a red light, patiently waiting for the light to turn green and suddenly, you hear the screech of tires followed by a sudden jolt as the car from behind collides into the back of your vehicle. By reflex, you may turn your head to the right to look in the rearview mirror to see what is happening. Even if you see the inevitable collision prior to the impact, the sudden jolt occurs so fast that you really don’t have a chance to adequately brace and you feel yourself being forced back into the seat and headrest followed by a rebound forwards.
Since you always wear your seatbelt, you feel the restraint across your chest and lap belts tighten as you’re propelled forward. The seat belt saves your life by stopping you from hitting the steering wheel or from being launched forward through the windshield. However, at this point of the impact, the soft tissue damage (ie. torn muscles, ligaments and tendons, compressed or ruptured nerves and discs, and bruised internal organs) has been done!
This ALL occurs in less than 500 milliseconds. You cannot voluntarily contract your muscles this fast, which means even if you had time to prepare yourself for the impact by bracing, you can’t stop the whiplash effect! (See diagram below for time sequence)
In a recent study, it was found the muscles in the front of the neck contract first at about 100 ms, which is 25 ms too late to prevent ligament or muscle damage, and they reach their peak stretch at 150ms (see 3rd from the left picture above). The muscles in the back of the neck start contracting soon thereafter but are injured more than the muscles in the front of the neck around the 300ms point. The reason for this is because as the head rebounds forwards, the muscles in the back of the neck are in the process of tightening up or shortening at the same time they are being stretched – (your body's attempt to protect itself under normal forces) but NOT a good combination under the excessive G-Forces experienced during a car crash!
This is one reason why many people injured in MVC’s often complain of greater intensity of neck pain in the back of the neck than in the front of the neck. Patients often present to our offices following a car accident with neck pain in the front, sides, and back of the neck, and in more severe cases the pain will radiate into the shoulders, arms and even to the hands and fingers, indicating injury to the deeper spinal nerves. Some patients will also have pain when swallowing due to the stretching trauma to the esophagus during the collision.
This also helps explain why headaches are common symptoms associated with whiplash as the upper 3 nerves that exit the top of the spine in the neck go into the head/scalp and are compressed or squeezed by the tight muscles in the back of the neck when they are injured which results in headaches. The spinal discs can also be injured by Whiplash, requiring proper diagnostic studies that may include MRI, Dynamic Motion EMG, and other more specific studies.
Whiplash, and Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD) can be quite serious and debilitating. They should be taken seriously, and anyone suffering from the injuries of a car accident should be seen by a physician who specializes in these types of injuries. Too often, a primary care doctor will simply prescribe pain medication and some rest, ignoring the potential severity of their patient's symptoms following a car crash, neglecting important treatment that could save the patient from future pain and disability.
If you or someone you know has recently suffered from a car accident injury, have them call our offices for assistance at: 619-472-2225. You (or they) may be entitled to necessary medical care and additional assistance with the damages from the claim, without any "out-of-pocket" expense, depending on the details of the claim. Our professional staff and physicians are thoroughly trained in the proper diagnosis, treatment and management of car accident injury cases, with extensive training and over 25 years of experience!
For A Free No-Obligation Consultation, Call 619-472-2225 (BACK) Today!
Yours in optimal health, . . . and no more whiplash neck pain!
Dr. Bruce Bell, D.C., Q.M.E., Qualified Medical Evaluator, American Academy of Spine Physicians, Director of the South Coast Spine Center