Whiplash is a non-medical term typically describing what happens to the head and neck when a person is struck from behind in a motor vehicle collision. Let’s look at some basic facts about whiplash:
- Before cars, trains were the main source of whiplash and was called “railroad spine.”
- Better terms for whiplash injuries include “cervical acceleration-deceleration” (CAD) which describes the mechanism of the injury, and/or the term “whiplash associated disorders” (WAD), which describes the residual injury symptoms.
- Whiplash is one of the most common non-fatal injuries involved in car crashes.
- There are over one million whiplash injuries per year due to car crashes alone.
- An estimated 3.8 per 1,000 people per year sustain a whiplash injury.
- In the United States alone, 6.2% of the population has “late whiplash syndrome” (symptoms that do not resolve after one year).
- 1 in 5 cases (20%) remain symptomatic at one year post-injury of which only 11.5% returned to work and only 35.4% of that number returned to the same level of work after 20 years.
- The majority of whiplash cases occur in the fourth decade of life, females>males.
- Whiplash can occur from slips, falls, and brawls, as well as from horse-riding, cycling injuries, and contact sports.
- Injury from whiplash can occur at speeds of 15 mph or less.
- In the “classic” rear end collision, there are four phases of injury (time: 300msec)
- 1.) Initial (0msec) – before the collision (the neck is stable)
- 2.) Retraction (1-150msec) – “whiplash” starts where the head/neck stay in the original position but the trunk is moving forwards by the car seat. This is where the “S” shaped curve occurs (viewing the spine from the side).
- 3.) Extension (150-200msec) – the whole neck bends backwards (hopefully stopped by a properly placed head rest).
- 4.) Rebound (200-300msec) – the tight, stretched muscles in the front of the neck propels the head forward immediately after the extension phase.
- We simply cannot voluntarily contract our neck muscles fast enough to avoid injury, as injury to the neck occurs within 500msec. and voluntary contraction or bracing takes 800msec or longer.
- Injury is worse when the seat is reclined as the body can “ramp” up and over the seat and headrest. Also, a springy seat back increases the rebound effect.
- Prompt treatment is better than waiting for a long time. Chiropractic spinal manipulation is a highly effective treatment option.
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