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Ask Dr. Trupo of Cape Chiropractic

By Cape Chiropractic | Sep 12, 2013

What is Whiplash and the Phases of Whiplash Injury?

Whiplash is an extremely rapid extension and flexion of the neck that results in injuries to the vertebrae, nerves, discs, muscles, ligaments and tendons.

There are four phases of whiplash injury. During a rear-end car crash, your body goes through a rapid acceleration and deceleration. In fact, going through the four phases of whiplash take less than a second.

During the first phase, your car is pushed out from under you and your back is flattened against the seat. This force shoves your cervical spine upwards and compresses your discs and joints. Additionally, your head moves backwards, creating stress. Your headrest should help reduce the movement of your neck, but damage can still occur.

In phase two, your torso is accelerating faster than your vehicle but your head is still going backwards. This creates an S-curve in your cervical spine. During this same time, your seat is now recoiling forward acting like a springboard, causing your torso to move forward even more rapidly.

During the third phase, your torso comes to rest again in your seat, but your head and neck are accelerating forward creating an S-curve in the opposite direction.

During the fourth and final phase of whiplash, your torso is stopped by the seatbelt and your head continues to move forward with nothing to stop it. This results in a violent forward bending motion of your neck. This force can result in muscle strains and tears, in vertebrae being shoved out of their normal position, in the spinal cord being stretched and irritated, and even the brain hitting the inside of your skull.

Unlike broken bones or torn ligaments, an x-ray cannot detect whiplash, so it is much harder to diagnose and easier to go untreated. Newer imaging devices such as a CAT Scan, MRI, and ultrasound can show soft tissue injury, so it is essential if you’ve been in an accident that you seek treatment with someone who can provide these diagnostic tests.

The most common whiplash symptoms are:

  • Neck pain and/or stiffness
  • Blurred vision
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Pain between the shoulder blades
  • Pain in the arms or legs, feet and hands
  • Headache
  • Low back pain and/or stiffness
  • Shoulder pain
  • Nausea
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Vertigo
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Pain in the jaw or face
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