If you have neck pain caused by whiplash, you may want to visit a chiropractor who can provide many non-surgical treatment options for relief of whiplash and related injuries. Whiplash is an injury to the neck joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons due to sudden and rapid forward and backward whipping motion of the neck caused by a trauma (eg, a car accident). Whiplash can cause acute (short-term) neck pain as well often results in chronic (long-term) problems that often are permanent.
How Does a Chiropractor Diagnose a Whiplash Injury?
Frist, it is critic after a neck injury to get a proper diagnosis since whiplash is not the only injury that occur due to a trauma. Fractures, dislocations, and disc injuries also occur. Hence, it is important to know what injury you are dealing with prior to treatment being applied. The chiropractor should evaluate every aspect of your spine as well as extremities in case other body parts are also injured.
During the examination, the chiropractor will note areas of restricted joint motion, swelling, intervertebral disc injury, muscle spasm, and tendon or ligament injury. He or she may use motion and static palpation (manually moving the joints through their ranges of motion) to locate areas of injuries. This involves feeling for tenderness, tightness, and how well or poorly the spinal joints move.
The chiropractor may also evaluate posture, how you move, walk and your overall spinal alignment. Such details assist in understanding your body's mechanics and create a baseline for comparison of your progression over the course of treatment.
In addition to examination of the spine, an x-ray of the injured body part is extremely helpful. For more severe injuries, an MRI of your spine to evaluate disc injuries or assess degenerative changes may be needed. Compiling and evaluation of the diagnostic imaging and examination results will determine the best treatment plan. Consulting with other physicians such as physical medicine specialists or neurologists is often helpful, especially in cases of more severe injuries where surgery may be necessary.
What Are the Steps of Whiplash Treatment
During the initial or acute phase of treatment, the chiropractor should focus on decreasing inflammation by using various therapies such as ice or ultrasound as well as mild stretching and manual therapy techniques including gentle joint manipulation techniques. A neck support or cervical collar to use for a limited time period can be helpful to take some pressure off the injured neck. As the inflammation and pain decreases, your chiropractor will perform gentle joint manipulation or other chiropractic techniques to regain more normal motion to your spine.
Using an inter-disciplinary approach to treatment is wise. This may involve medication prescribed by a medical physician, physical therapy, or massage therapy. Different practitioners can offer valid insights into treatment options depending on the nature of your injury.
Types of Chiropractic Whiplash Treatments
Your treatment after a thorough examination depends on the nature and severity of your injury. Everybody is different. No spine is the same. Different people respond to different techniques in unpredictable ways. Hence, it is important to see a chiropractor who is willing to apply an approach that is best suited for you as an individual. Likewise, everyone responds at different rates over the course of time. Some people may recover over a few weeks and others may take months, or never. It is important to communicate honestly with your chiropractor and insist on a different treatment approach if the initial treatment is not effective. Chiropractors today have a variety of tools at their disposal. Some types of injuries may not respond to chiropractic at all and a referral to another physician may be necessary from the onset.
The technique which chiropractors are most known for is spinal manipulation. This is commonly known as an “adjustment.” There are literally dozens of spinal manipulation techniques commonly used. A chiropractor may also adapt a common technique based on personal preference and experience. Some of these techniques are:
Specific manual spinal manipulation: The chiropractor identifies spinal joints that are restricted or show abnormal motion (often referred to as subluxations). This technique attempts to restore motion to the joint by using a gentle thrusting technique stretching the soft tissue and stimulate the nervous system to restore normal motion to the spine.
Flexion-distraction technique: Whiplash injuries often result in bulging or herniated discs or may result in aggravating an already bulging or herniated disc. The chiropractor uses a slow pumping action on the disc instead of direct force to the spine, often using a specialized table or other equipment. This mechanical or hands-on technique is a gentle, non-thrusting type of spinal manipulation designed to reduce or decompress herniated discs.
Instrument-assisted manipulation: This non-thrusting technique involves use of a specialized hand-held instrument. With this technique, the chiropractor applies pressure or force without thrusting into the spine. This type of manipulation is helpful for older patients who have a degenerative joint concerns or people with severe spams or when manual techniques are contra-indicated.
In addition to spinal manipulation or adjustments, a chiropractor may also use various other types of manual therapy to manage injuries such as:
Graston (Instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy): This is an instrument-assisted technique using gentle repeated strokes of an instrument over the injured area.
Massage: The chiropractor may perform therapeutic massage to ease muscle tension in your neck. This may be done by the chiropractor or a licensed massage therapist.
Trigger point therapy: After locating tight and painful points of a muscle direct pressure on these specific points is applied to reduce muscle tension.
There are also physical therapies that are useful reduce inflammation caused after an injury. Some of the more commonly used therapies are:
Interferential electrical stimulation: This involves applying a low frequency electrical current to help stimulate muscles. The goal is to reduce inflammation around the injured area.
Ultrasound: Ultrasound helps decrease muscle spasms, stiffness and reduce pain by applying sound waves into muscle tissues. This creates a gentle heat affect that increases circulation.
Therapeutic exercises: Exercise is critical to long-term progress after an injury. Muscles, tendons and other support tissue of the spine are often injured. Strengthening those weakened areas help to maintain progress attained over the course of treatment.
The goal of chiropractic treatment after an injury is to evaluate the whole person and not just the painful body part since all the body parts are interconnected. By doing so, proper function may be restored to the whole body and not just the worst injured area. Since injuries and healing varies from person to person, it is important to evaluate and treat everyone based on their own needs. As stated above, communication is important – let your chiropractor know what is or is not working. Documenting your injuries, by both you and the chiropractor is also important. The chiropractor must take accurate daily treatment notes. Your writing a “pain diary” is also helpful.