Whiplash happens in situations that force the neck to snap in two opposite directions very quickly and forcefully. Typically, this occurs during some kind of collision or accident. For example, car crashes are the most common cause of whiplash. When a vehicle is rear-ended, the person driving (and usually the passengers) will often be forced forward quickly, which causes their neck to snap down toward the chest. In an immediate reaction to that movement, the neck will then move back forcefully in the opposite direction. This fast movement, called hyperextension, is an unnatural movement, and the frequent result is whiplash.
Whiplash can cause so much pain because it can damage multiple areas in the body. In particular, the neck discs (the cervical discs), the discs in the upper and lower back (vertebral discs), and the delicate soft tissue making up your neck, upper back, and shoulder areas can all be seriously damaged.
Pain in the neck area after an accident is a common symptom. This may start immediately, or it can take as long as several days to develop. Some whiplash patients have headaches, and others have dizzy spells. It is also common to have a restricted range of motion due to the pain of moving the neck. Some whiplash sufferers have back pain and shoulder area pain as well.
Chiropractic care often involves a combination approach for whiplash. During the acute phase of whiplash (immediately after the accident), the priority is the reduction of inflammation and pain in the neck area to make the patient more comfortable. This involves not only gentle stretching and muscle manipulation but also therapies like ultrasound treatment.
As the patient becomes more comfortable, gentle hands-on spinal adjustments are typically done to help restore full range of motion of the cervical joints in the neck. Other modes of treatment like heat and cold therapy may also offer relief for pain and restricted movement.
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