Whiplash, a collective term for injuries from violent motion of the head forward and backward, results most frequently from a rear-end collision. Many patients in our office present with this injury and are unsure what to expect with their pain. This is unsurprising since so many different articles, view points, and media sensationalism has covered this topic. In describing what can be expected after a whiplash injury, one thing is for certain, there are many grades of whiplash. The degree of injury can range from none to terrible depending on many factors, some of which are difficult or impossible to identify or calculate.
The good news is that most people who suffer from this injury get better. Almost 50% of rear-end collisions result in no injuries reported. Soft tissue work, similar to massage, with chiropractic adjustments, and some physical therapy help with many other cases. There are however roughly 5% to 10% of patients who will continue to have pain after 1 year. This is called Chronic Whiplash syndrome or more commonly chronic sprain/strain injury. Treatment for those that fall into this category is very difficult. Most patients have been through chiropractic care and or physical therapy. Many of them will have a positive cervical MRI and have seen a pain management doctor or orthopedist by the one year mark. There are different perspectives within the medical community as to what exactly is generating pain for these patients. One of the most widely accepted theories is that, in patients with an MRI showing disc herniations, the disc is the pain generator. The problem with this theory is that studies have shown that many people who have not sustained trauma and have no pain can have disc herniations on MRI.
Another commonly accepted theory is that facet joints (the joints that connect one vertebrae to the next) become inflamed and “learn” to continue sending pain signals to the brain even once the inflammation subsides. This theory bears out better in the research and is the basis for both the chiropractic adjustment and the facet block injections that pain management doctors may utilize.
The reality is that chronic pain is very multifaceted. Even once the tissue that is generating pain is found, often, the psychosocial nature of injury has caused the patient to identify with their injury. More plainly, the injured is so used to being injured that it is who they are now. This doesn’t mean they want to be injured only that it is what their brain identifies with.
The take home message for whiplash injury is that most people who suffer from this heal completely and for those who don’t multi-modal treatment programs including chiropractic, pain management, and physical therapy can help tremendously.
Time and again research has concluded that following a whiplash trauma or car accident after which you feel pain, the chiropractor should be your first stop for cost-effective benefits and faster return to work times. If you have whiplash or similar injuries we can help, call us now at 407-982-7733