Whiplash is a non-medical term that represents a large range of injuries to the neck caused by or related to a rapid, sudden movement of the neck often to and beyond the end-ranges of motion that results in injury to soft tissues and sometimes bony tissues in the neck. Cervical acceleration-deceleration (CAD) describes the mechanism of injury while whiplash associated disorders (WAD) describes the signs and symptoms of an anatomical injury.
Aside from injuries in the neck, shoulders, and back, WAD can include trauma to the brain caused the organ impacting the front and back of the inside of the skull (referred to as a coup-contra-coup injury) during the hyperextension followed by hyperflexion phases of the CAD injury. The result is a traumatic brain injury (TBI), which is commonly referred to as a concussion. Symptoms associated with TBI include forgetfulness, short-term memory loss, and “mental fog”.
One explanation for the resulting signs and symptoms associated with WAD injuries is the fact that it takes longer to voluntarily contract a muscle (about 1,000 milliseconds) vs. the time from start to finish of the whiplash process (about 300-500 ms). At about 100 ms after impact, the vehicle is accelerated forward and the seatback pushes into the spine or torso, propelling it away from the direction of the collision while the head stays stationary (due to inertia).
At 150-300 ms, the torso can “ramp up” due to the reclined angle of the seatback. Depending on the headrest position and type, the head can hyperextend over the headrest. The amount of rebound is partially affected by the “springiness” of the seatback and the amount of vehicular damage (or lack thereof), since crushing metal absorbs energy. Thus, injury can occur even when the vehicle receives little to no car due to the energy of the impact being transferred to the contents of the vehicle—including its occupants.
The whole whiplash process is over well before one can contract muscles in preparation to a crash, so it’s virtually impossible to avoid injury.
Research shows that WAD patients can experience better outcomes if they seek prompt treatment focused on restoring motion to the affected areas. Time and time again, chiropractic care has been demonstrated to not only help WAD patients get out of pain and return to their normal activities but it also achieves high scores regarding patient satisfaction.