Whiplash injuries of the neck and spine commonly occur in motor vehicle collisions. Even minor impacts with little vehicle damage can put significant stress on the spinal ligaments, disks, and delicate nerves. Some people get symptoms right after the accident (which is a very bad sign) but most people feel somewhat unscathed, at least initially.
It’s important to consider how spinal injuries can affect you over the long term. When ligaments are injured, there can be substantial changes over the years, such as arthritis and disk degeneration.
A 1994 study published in the scientific journal SPINE (Dec. 15, 1994) looked at fifty patients with MRI and bending x-rays both one and five years after injury. The researchers found that neck pain persisted in 24/50 (48%) patients and radiating pain developed within 6 weeks in 19 patients (38%). Radiating pain occurs when a disk protrudes and bulges onto a nerve root exiting your spinal column. In patients with these persistent symptoms, the MRI was helpful in showing the disk injury.
Although surgery is considered by many, most patients do well under conservative, even minimal care. It’s important to consider non-surgical options first, since surgery does entail substantial risks, and how well it works is also subject to debate.
X-rays and palpation are used to examine the posture of your neck and how the vertebrae move in stressed positions. These tests can help determine how your spine functions and whether the disk is injured and/or also if you have pre-existing signs of arthritis, which can impair how you resist and recover from trauma.
Chiropractic adjustments are directed at reducing pain and improving mobility in spinal areas that are blocked. In general, it’s important to keep your neck moving while you recover. Staying in bed and not moving the spine at all is not advised since this can impair recovery. Even patients with severe injuries can have some movements preserved and these should be encouraged.
Because symptoms, and even disk disease, can show up later, it is important to have a detailed neurological examination following a neck injury. Whiplash trauma is significant, especially when you consider how many patients still suffer years down the road with neck and arm pain. Getting diagnosed properly is the first step to determining what type of care will be best for you.