Chiropractic Care for Whiplash

If you have suffered a whiplash-type injury to the neck, chiropractic care is a good choice to reduce pain and return proper mechanics to the cervical spine.

To understand the chiropractic treatment of whiplash injuries, it is important to briefly review the nature of this type of neck injury. Whiplash is characterized as an injury to the muscles of the neck from the traumatic rapid forward and backward motion of the neck during an accident.

Chiropractic emphasizes a comprehensive picture of the mechanisms of neck sprain.

As important as muscle injury is the response of the nervous system to trauma, and the injury to deeper tissues of the spine with resulting restriction or fixation of spinal joints.

The acute pain and restricted motion you experience after a whiplash injury is a product of injured tissue, and the protective response of the nervous system as it locks up spinal joints to protect you from possible injury to the spinal cord.

Chiropractic care emphasizes mobilizing restricted spinal joints and initiating rapid firing of neurological receptors using spinal manipulation, including non-force and flexion-distraction techniques. Your chiropractor will address the disturbed mechanics and the neurological responses that allow for treating the cause of neck injury and return a full functioning to injured spinal joints. It is important to emphasize that spinal manipulation is introduced by your chiropractor only when the initial traumatic muscle injury is stabilized. Your chiropractor will be using various types of treatments depending on the stage of your whiplash injury.

The Stages of Whiplash Treatment

Shortly after the injury, in the acute phase, the chiropractor will concentrate on reducing inflammation with therapy modalities, such as ultrasound, and, if indicated, gentle stretching and manual therapies, such as muscle energy therapy. Ice will be recommended and sometimes a light neck support might be prescribed for a short period of time.

As the neck begins to be less inflamed and acute, the chiropractor will utilize gentle spinal manipulation, or adjusting, in order to return motion to spinal joints that have locked up and become restricted as a result of the injury. In some patients, non-thrusting and non-force methods are more appropriate, including Cox flexion-distraction technique.

Chiropractic Care and Whiplash

Chiropractors are doctors who specialize in the care of non-surgical conditions of the neck with gentle, time-saving approaches that address the mechanical and neurological causes of whiplash injury.

Chiropractors are rigorously trained to diagnosis the different types of neck injuries. Your chiropractor will take an extensive history and provide a comprehensive examination to determine what tissues have been injured in an accident and what spinal joints may be restricted in motion.

The goal of chiropractic care in treating whiplash injuries is to optimize motion in the spine, treat the spinal discs, reduce muscle spasm and improve muscular strength. Chiropractors are specialists in spinal manipulation—an active, hands-on care that returns motion to the spine. The restricted motion and disturbed mechanics that characterize whiplash injuries are especially helped by spinal manipulation in patients who are considered good candidates for this approach.

How a Chiropractor Diagnoses Whiplash Injury

Even if you go to the chiropractor complaining of neck pain following an accident, he or she will evaluate your spine as a whole. The chiropractor will check your neck (cervical spine), mid-back (thoracic spine), and low back (lumbar spine). It’s important to examine the entire spine because even though it’s just your neck that hurts, other regions of the spine may be affected.

Your chiropractor will determine areas of restricted joint motion, disc injury, muscle spasm, and ligament injury. One way the chiropractor does that is through motion and static palpation, diagnostic techniques unique to chiropractic. Motion and static palpation is an examination by means of touch. The chiropractor will feel for tenderness, tightness, and how well each spinal joint moves.

The chiropractor will also analyze how you walk and look at your overall posture and spinal alignment. Those details will help your chiropractor understand your body mechanics and how well your spine is working and moving.

You’ll also go through your past medical history with the chiropractor. Your chiropractor will have x-rays of your spine taken to evaluate possible degenerative changes, or an MRI if it is indicated.

After the examination, the chiropractor will be better able to create an effective treatment plan for your neck pain.

Possible Chiropractic Treatment Approaches for Treating Whiplash Injuries The exact treatment plan depends on your diagnosis. Your chiropractor may use a type of spinal manipulation, or spinal adjustment, to improve joint motion and soft tissue health.

Some spinal manipulation techniques are:

  • Specific spinal manipulation: The chiropractor identifies the joints that are restricted or show abnormal motion, also called subluxations, and returns motion to the joint with a gentle thrusting technique. This gentle thrusting rapidly stretches soft tissue and stimulates the nervous system to return normal motion to the spine.
  • Flexion-distraction technique: This is a gentle, non-thrusting type of manipulation used to treat bulging or herniated discs with or without arm pain. (The whiplash injury may aggravate a bulging or herniated disc.) This treatment is still hands-on, utilizing a specialized table to assist the chiropractor, but uses a slow pumping action on the disc instead of direct force.
  • Instrument-assisted manipulation: This is another non-thrusting technique. Using a hand-held instrument, the chiropractor can apply force without thrusting into the spine. This is especially appropriate in older patients with degenerative joint syndrome.

The chiropractor may also use manual therapy to treat injured soft tissues such as ligaments and muscles. Some examples are:

  • Trigger point therapy: The chiropractor identifies specific hypertonic (tight), painful points on a muscle. He or she puts direct pressure (using the fingers) on these points to relieve the tension.
  • Manual joint stretching and resistance techniques: Muscle energy therapy, an osteopathic technique, is is an example of a resistance manual joint therapy.
  • Therapeutic massage
  • Instrument-assisted soft tissue therapy: The chiropractor may use Graston technique, an instrument-assisted therapy to treat the injured soft tissue. Your chiropractor will perform gentle repeated strokes of the instrument over the area of muscle injury.

In addition to spinal manipulation and manual techniques, the chiropractor may use various therapy modalities to help reduce inflammation caused by whiplash. Some examples are:

  • Interferential electrical stimulation: This uses a low frequency electrical current to stimulate your muscles in order to reduce inflammation.
  • Ultrasound: By increasing blood circulation, ultrasound helps reduce muscle spasms, stiffness, and pain. It does this by sending sound waves deep into your muscle tissues, creating a gentle heat that enhances circulation and heating.

To reinforce the improved joint mechanics (return of normal spinal motion), your chiropractor will prescribe therapeutic exercises.

Chiropractors are “whole person” doctors who view neck pain as unique to each patient. Therefore, they don’t focus on just your neck pain. Chiropractic care includes nutrition, stress management, and lifestyle goals (because all of those can add to neck pain, so you need to address them if you really want to relieve your pain).

Chiropractors emphasize prevention as the key to long-term health—another example of chiropractors looking at the whole person, not just the painful problem. Keeping the neck and back healthy is vital to the chiropractic approach to care.

How Chiropractic Helps Patients with Whiplash Injuries

A chiropractor will help you return to your normal activities quickly so that you can enjoy your daily life without pain. He or she will work to address the underlying mechanical (how the spine moves) or neurological (nerve-related) causes of your whiplash injury.

We provide a variety of services with one goal in mind, to help you get the recovery and pain relief you deserve. We’re available for same-day appointments. We treat most vehicle accidents injuries with NO Out-of-Pocket costs.

Our insurance department will be glad to coordinate benefits with the responsible party’s insurance carrier or your attorney. This allows us to treat most injuries with No Out-of-Pocket Expense and allows you to focus on getting better.

Contact our Whiplash Treatment Center in San Jose (408) 269-2225

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