Neck Whiplash Pain - A Cautionary Tale
A while back a patient came into the office with an aching neck.
Over a period of several months it had become stiff and mildly painful. Her symptoms worsened and she started taking Advil to alleviate the pain. By the time of her initial visit she could barely turn her neck, had difficulty turning her head to look out for traffic and was having headaches.
Her left arm was now starting to hurt but no signs of heart disease. When I asked her what she thought caused her problem she was at a complete loss. In going through her past history she recalled a car accident that occurred about 10 years ago. The accident left her sore for a few weeks but she felt that the effects of the injury were minor and resolved.
Her examination was difficult to perform, with very restricted ability to turn and bend her neck in all directions. She had a lot of muscle spasms and there was tenderness around her neck.
What I found most remarkable was the loss of muscle mass in the neck and upper back. Strength testing showed that she had lost much of her ability to move her neck and upper back. Her x-rays showed severe degeneration around the lower neck involving 3 joints and she had substantial misalignment of the lower neck that is consistent with a "Whiplash" injury.
She was surprised to learn that her injuries started several years earlier, as a result of the car accident. She later recalled that she had some come and go neck stiffness over the years since the accident but thought that it was just from the rigors of daily living, stress and getting older.
What The Research Says About Neck Whiplash Pain
In the Early 90's, Dr. Ian Macnab was the most erudite spine researcher of the realm. His research published in "Spine," a respected journal even today, noted that "The severity of an impact cannot predict the degree of injury in a person involved in a motor vehicle accident."
It has been close to 30 years since the research was conducted and a mountain of evidence now confirms that minor rear end collisions can, and do, cause degeneration and early onset arthritis in the neck.
Back in the early 1990's I was certified as whiplash and brain injury trauma expert. At the time, 12 major research papers showed the somewhere between 44 and 80 percent of all people involved in rear impact injuries continue to complain of neck and back pain five years after the injury was thought to have been resolved.
What can we learn from this? When you have a motor vehicle accident, you should be checked by a specialist who is trained in the evaluation and management of motor vehicle accidents.
Come and go stiffness in your spine is your body's early warning system telling you that something is wrong. When your joints are completely degenerated it's too late to fix the problem. The best you can do at that point is to make the patient feel better, slow the process of degeneration or prevent it from getting worse.
Sometimes, all it takes is a few simple exercises, some stretches and a few office visits to protect your spine from a lifetime of misery.
Steve Smith - Your friendly, neighborhood Pasadena Chiropractor