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Whiplash: It takes so very little to cause a neck injury

We’ve written a general primer before on whiplash to help our patients understand the risk factors and how to reduce their odds of injury, but there is so much to understand it warrants another look.

Even a low-speed collision is a violent event

Even a low-speed collision is a violent event

To recap: What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a common term used to describe a number of neck injuries that can result from a sudden impact that throws your head to the side, backward, and/or forward. Vertebrae, discs, muscles, and ligaments in the neck can all be damaged. The more sudden the impact, the greater the damage. Rear-end collisions are the type of car accident most likely to cause a whiplash injury. Those most at risk are the passenger and the driver in the front seats of the car that’s struck.

The risk of injury doesn’t come from the speed at which the car is struck. It’s the speed at which the head snaps back during the collision.

This velocity change may be small, only eight to 16 km/h, but the entire sequence of your head movement can take place in less than half a second, according to study results published in Painful Cervical Trauma, Diagnosis and Rehabilitative Treatment of Neuromusculoskeletal Injuries, from the University of Michigan. Other research published in Clinical Biomechanics of the Spine shows that the acceleration of the head is two to 2.5 times faster than the acceleration of the vehicle.

Bottom line: Even a low-speed collision is a violent event, and this can cause injury to the neck. As Chiropractors in Kanata, we see evidence of this all the time.

And there are other aggravating factors, according to Clinical Biomechanics:

“The speed of the impact, the headrest of the seat, the position of the passenger, the material of the seat, and the design of the seat all affect the intensity of whiplash injuries.”

The consequences

For most people, whiplash leaves them with only a few days of mild pain. In the more severe cases, it can result in permanent conditions such as chronic pain, temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ), quadriplegia, or even death.

A whiplash injury doesn’t need a car

Any abrupt extension/flexion of the neck can cause a whiplash injury. While auto accidents are the most common cause, they can also arise from hard hits in sports (consider that as hockey season ramps up again in Kanata) and slips and falls.

Even getting down to pick up something, then coming up fast and whacking the back of your head on the underside of the kitchen table, can cause a soft tissue injury in the neck.

How do I know if I have a whiplash injury?

Neck and/or shoulder pain are the most common symptoms. But you may also suffer headaches, neck swelling, muscle spasms, numbness or tingling in your arms, nausea, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, and blurred vision. These symptoms can be immediate, or may slowly develop over several days.

So how can you prevent or reduce the severity of a whiplash injury?

  • Drive a vehicle with good safety features, and know how to use them

The obvious place to begin is to buy a vehicle with top-notch control systems to keep you on the road and in control, such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and traction control. Know how these systems work and how to use them effectively when road conditions are poor. Get a set of good snow tires for winter.

  • Wear your seat belts.

Headrest placement is crucial. The common rule of thumb was to position your headrest so that the top of it reaches at least as high as the top of your ears, no more than four inches, or 10 centimetres, from the back of your head.

But, even this may not be good enough. Some experts suggest placement with no more than one cm, less than half an inch, between your head and the rest.

That means, if you like to wear a hat with a brim, you’ll have to take it off while in the car.

  • Always practice good posture

Regardless of how your vehicle is designed or adjusted, posture matters. Sitting upright with good posture, with the shoulder belt properly positioned and the lap belt seated low across your pelvis, will help to minimize the risk of injury in a collision.

  • A healthy neck is your best defence

A strong and healthy body can always endure, and recover from, injury and punishment better than one that is not. It’s no different with your spine and neck.

During a collision, your neck is forced into an unnatural S-shape. If you already suffer from a loss of the natural curvature in your neck, this is putting strain on, or is causing damage to your bones and soft tissues, and it will likely leave you vulnerable to a more serious whiplash injury in a collision.

We can help

Chiropractors are, after all, primary care providers who specialize in spinal health – this includes your neck. We can diagnose and treat many of the injuries that typically result from a whiplash injury.

Did you find this information useful?

I hope you did. Please share it with your friends and anyone you know who’s looking for a Kanata Chiropractor. You can also follow Hazeldean Family Chiropractic on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, where we regularly post on other health-related topics.

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