Whiplash is an injury in which the neck is thrust suddenly forward and then backwards. It is usually the result of an automobile accident in which the driver’s car has been struck from the rear. According to Consumer Reports, there are rear-end crashes every 17 seconds in the U.S. and whiplash can occur at speeds of less than 10 miles/hour. People who have suffered a whiplash injury to their necks often experience chronic pain. Traction can provide relief and speed healing.
The cervical spine is composed of seven vertebrae, and is the area affected in a whiplash. The first vertebra (termed C1) articulates with the skull, and cartilage separates—and cushions—each vertebra. According to Philippe Lauweryns in a 2010 article in the European Spine Journal, conservative measures such as traction are a useful approach to stabilize and realign the cervical spine, and there are four types of braces. The first is a cervical collar, which offers comfort but is limited in its ability to entirely restrict motion. Cervical collars are generally better at restricting flexion and extension than lateral bending.
Cervicothoracic braces (e.g., poster braces) are the second described type. These braces limit pivoting the head by applying traction to the upper torso. The third type is a sternal occipital mandibular immobilizer [SOMI] that immobilizes the C5-C7 vertebrae rather than the C1. The fourth type—the halo vest—is the most effective way to immobilize the entire cervical spine, and is utilized mostly post-surgery.
In whiplash injuries, the individual may not experience pain until 24 hours after the incident. The pain can be caused by muscle strain, ligaments that have been stretched beyond their normal extension, nerve involvement, or herniated disks. Symptoms of whiplash include neck stiffness, pain between the shoulder blades or in the shoulders, pain or numbness in arms, headaches, dizziness—and neck pain upon movement.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an estimated 66 percent of all insurance claims for bodily injury liability were due to neck injuries in 2007. There were approximately 805,581 whiplash injuries annually from 1988-1996 as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Pain relief from whiplash may be acquired by a visit to a chiropractor for manual manipulation. An anti-inflammatory medication and/or muscle relaxant may also be recommended by a physician. Dr. Kennedy’s Neck Deck provides gentle extension traction to re-establish the cervical curve, and thereby provides pain relief. It has a contoured foam base and forehead extension strap.
Following a spinal injury, physical therapy is often prescribed. This usually involves exercises as well as treatments that must be performed at regular intervals to maintain pain relief. Whiplash is often chronic in terms of causing distress, so vigilance is necessary to not re-injure the area. The Core Product Stretch Assist aids in stretching and gentle traction. It has four durable cotton straps to accommodate various stretches, and its dimensions are 10 inches by 30 inches.
For soft tissue injuries—such as are typical in occurrences of whiplash—x-rays are not useful for a diagnosis, since soft tissues cannot be visualized. Instead, computerized tomography (CT) scans or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be necessary. MRI scans are especially useful in diagnosing soft tissue injuries, such as to the cervical spine or nerve roots.
Other Causes of Whiplash
Besides a car accident, another major cause of whiplash injuries is athletic-based contact sports—especially football, soccer or basketball (but even in a karate practice). An individual can also sustain a whiplash injury from falling off a bicycle or diving. Adolescents are at high risk of an injury to the cervical spine from contact sports, and may not take the potential long-term effects from a lack of recuperative period seriously. Parents should be be watchful in ensuring their teenagers following medical advice, and not return to the athletic activity prematurely.
Acupuncture may also be useful for pain relief for people who are recovering from whiplash injuries. An article in 2012 in the European Journal of Pain described acupuncture as activating endogenous analgesia to produce pain relief. The acupuncture treatment involved insertion of fine needles into specific points for one 20 minute session. However, no difference was found in those study subjects who received the single acupuncture treatment, and those who engaged in a relaxation technique for a single session.
Painkillers can provide pain relief from a whiplash injury, but do not actually heal the injury. Because of their addictive properties, opioid pharmaceuticals should be avoided or used only briefly in the management of a whiplash injury.