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The DANGER of Inadequate Whiplash Treatment

Blink your eyes. How long did it take? In about the same amount of time, 1/10 of second, the rapid jolt of your head in one direction then another during an auto accident can ravage the delicate tissues of your neck. Known as “whiplash”, this injury commonly occurs after a rear-end collision. People are often left with a myriad of symptoms that may include pain in the neck and/or lower back, immobility, headaches, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, blurred vision and sensations running into the arms and hands. Whiplash is one of the most complex and potentially long-lasting injuries seen. Pills and exercises alone as treatment often fall short. Waiting and seeing what happens is risky and can allow the injury to take up permanent residence! Recovery is possible, but requires a clear understanding of the injuries and a comprehensive approach utilizing a combination of therapies and techniques.

At the time of impact, the neck turns into an “S” shape and is then thrown completely back into a full extension. This would be fine if you are a Flamingo, but not for a human with the normal neck shape of a “C”. This high-speed contortion easily damages muscles, ligaments between the bones, joint capsules and intervertebral discs.

Some whiplash injuries can be invisible to standard examination procedures and may prematurely lead practitioners to stop care and label patients as “normal”.  Damage to the trapezius muscles, which runs from the base of the skull out to your shoulders and down the mid back, is one such example. Extensive shoulder work on my whiplash patients is often necessary- even when no symptoms were felt in the shoulder regions. A 2012 study from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine confirms and documents how the damage to the trapezius muscle can contribute to the suffering experienced by patients.(1)

Don’t be fooled by the appearance of your car! Even minor injuries with little to no vehicle damage can cause injuries to your neck. After 20 years in practice, I still get surprised when a patient’s condition is downplayed by an inexperienced insurance adjuster. Research has found that vehicle speed and degree of damage to the car are not reliable indicators of injury to the passenger.(2) It has also been found that injury to the neck may occur after a rear-end collision at speeds as low as two miles per hour.(3)

But I went to the Emergency Room! ER doctors are fantastic at sewing people back together and making sure that their life is not immediately threatened. The ER is not designed to evaluate the long-term needs of a motor vehicle accident victim. To complicate matters, patients typically enter the emergency department within a few hours following the incident when the full clinical presentation is yet to be revealed. Symptoms may be absence and cause a person to appear less injured. Neck pain starts in 65% of patients within 6 hours, 28% of patients within 24 hours and 7% within 72 hours.(4)

Although medication may be necessary at times to manage pain, it should be approached with caution. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) published “CDC Grand Rounds: Prescription Drug Overdoses — a U.S. Epidemic” on January 13, 2012. The CDC study revealed:

  • In 2007, approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, one death every 19 minutes.
  • Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States.
  • The two main populations in the United States at risk for prescription drug overdose are the approximately 9 million persons who report long-term medical use of opioids, and the roughly 5 million persons who report non-medical use (ie., use without a prescription or medical need), in the past month.

With over 6,000,000 car accidents each year in the U.S., millions of the injured are first introduced, with a prescription, to Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin or other opioid analgesics of choice... and for a portion of them, drug side-effects and/or the start of an addiction. The drug-free approach in chiropractic can help patients avoid such perils. It’s always a joyous moment when a patient reaches a point in his or her healing process when pain medication is no longer needed. Even better, many under chiropractic care never require drugs in the first place!

So- what’s the formula that I have found to be the most successful? I start with a comprehensive consultation and examination. X-rays and/or other imaging such as MRI may be necessary. I then focus on each of the below steps:

  • Evaluate and correct the alignment and mobility of the spinal and pelvic bones.
  • Check the bones of the skull for fixations (including the jaw).
  • Analyze and adjust problems of the collar bones, shoulder blades, shoulder sockets and arms.
  • Treat all of the muscles and tendons that reveal injury (especially where they attach to the skull, collar bones and shoulder blades).
  • Correct distortions in the myofascia (bands and sheaths of connective tissues involving muscles).
  • Utilize rehabilitative exercise to help muscles strengthen and heal correctly.
  • If scarring exists, perform release techniques in order to reduce the functional deficits scar tissue creates.

Inadequate treatment can bring about chronic consequences and years of suffering. Don’t ignore the condition with inaction or relying only on a pill bottle! By recognizing and understanding the complexities presented in a whiplash injury, needed treatment can be received and odds of a full recovery increased. Act promptly! The sooner you receive care after the accident, the better. Keep in mind- your chance of a healthier future is far harder to replace then any car on the roads!

J R Soc Med Sh Rep August 2012 vol 3 no 8 57
Teasell RW, McCain. 1992
Emori R. 1990
Deans et al 1987

Dr. Scott E. Rosenthal is a second-generation Doctor of Chiropractic and a past president of the Delaware Chiropractic Society. His undergraduate degree is in nutrition and he is a Certified Yoga Teacher. In his Wilmington practice, he offers the cutting-edge Koren Specific Technique (KST) as well as other contemporary and traditional approaches. KST comfortably integrates gentle adjustments of the spine, cranial bones, TMJ, arms and legs (including the wrists and feet). Dr. Rosenthal specializes in pain relief, auto or work injury recovery and natural ways to boost whole body wellness. To contact Dr. Rosenthal please visit or call 302-999-0633.