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The Four Phases of Whiplash

Whiplash is typically associated with car accidents. However, whiplash can occur as a result of virtually any activity – from riding roller coasters to playing sports. Some people get whiplash after a fall, for example.

When you experience whiplash, your body goes through an extremely quick and violent acceleration and deceleration process. A whiplash injury will progress through four specific phases. These phases occur in seconds. Each phase involves a different force acting on your body, with each forcing adding a new phase to your injury, causing different types of damage to your vertebrae, nerves, discs, muscles, and ligaments in your back, upper neck, and other parts of the body.

For the purposes of this explanation, we’ll use whiplash experienced during a car accident:

Phase 1)

A separate force – like another vehicle or a solid object – impacts your vehicle. Your car is immediately moved at great speed from underneath you. Your mid-back is flattened against the back of the seat, creating an upward force targeting your cervical spine (your neck). This force compresses your discs and joints. The car’s momentum will continue pushing your lower back forward. Your head, however, has not yet caught up – your head will fly backward, whipping violently at your neck. This is why a well-adjusted head restraint is so important. It minimizes the backward travel of your head. Unfortunately, the majority of spinal damage occurs before your head hits the restraint, although a good restraint still reduces injury by 10% to 20%.

Phase 2)

Your torso reaches its peak acceleration, often going up to twice as fast as the vehicle. However, your head is still moving backwards. This creates an abnormal S-curve in your cervical spine. Your seat back springs forward, increasing the speed of your torso even further. The forward-moving seat and backward-moving head then meet in one of the most destructive moments of the whiplash sequence, with the neck bearing the majority of the movement. A significant amount of bone, joint, nerve, and disc damage occurs at this moment.

Phase 3)

Your torso is beginning to settle back down into your seat. Both your head and your neck, however, are still accelerating forward at their peak speed. Your vehicle is typically slowing down at this moment because your foot is on the brake (after temporarily lifting away from the pedal during the moment of impact). This sudden braking increases the flexion injury of your neck. At this point, your forward movement is restricted by your seatbelt.

Phase 4)

The final phase is the most damaging part of the entire whiplash sequence. The seatbelt stops your torso, but your head continues to move forward. Your neck will bend violently under this force, straining muscles and ligaments, tearing fibers in your spinal discs, and forcing vertebrae out of position. Your spinal cord and nerve roots are stretched and damaged. Your brain hits your skull, which can potentially cause mild to moderate brain injury through bleeding, bruising, and swelling. If you’re not wearing a seatbelt, then your head is free to move forward and strike the steering wheel, dashboard, or windshield of your vehicle, all of which can cause even more traumatic brain injuries.

Each phase lasts a fraction of a second. By the end of the sequence, you can have significant and long-lasting whiplash damage.

If you’ve experienced whiplash injury from a car accident or any other type of trauma, schedule a free, no obligations consultation with Lakewood’s leading chiropractor, Renew Chiropractic, at 720-493-5885.

6 Realities About Whiplash

1) Pain Isn’t the Only Symptom of Whiplash

Many people associate whiplash injuries with neck and shoulder pain. Pain is the most common symptom associated with whiplash injuries – but it’s not the only symptom. Other common whiplash symptoms include headaches, neck swelling, muscle spasms, numbness and tingling in your arms, nausea, difficulty swallowing, dizziness, and blurred version.

2) Whiplash Injuries Can Occur From Collisions as Slow as 5mph

You might associate whiplash with high speed impacts. Approximately one third of whiplash victims, however, received their injury while traveling at speeds of 2.5 to 5mph. Many people develop whiplash symptoms even when there’s no visible damage to the vehicle. A rear collision at a speed of just 10mph can produce up to 9G’s of force on your neck. The speed of the collision doesn’t necessarily correlate to the degree of injury.

3) Impacts Force Your Neck Into an Unnatural S-Curve

Your neck has 7 vertebrae. Normally, these vertebrae form a 35 to 45 degree curve called the cervical lordosis. During a rear-end collision, the torso is forced back into the seat and upward, which forces the lower cervical (neck) vertebrae into a hyperextended state. The upper cervical vertebrae, meanwhile, flex forward. This creates an unnatural “S-curve” in your neck. This curve causes injuries to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments as they strain to correct your neck against the unnatural force.

4) Whiplash X-Rays Don’t Typically Show a Fracture

Vehicle headrest technology has improved over the years. Today’s headrests significantly reduce severe neck injuries – including neck fractures. That’s why most x-rays of whiplash victims will not show a fracture. Instead, many whiplash x-rays show a straightening of the cervical curve. Your neck is naturally curved, but an impact can cause persistent muscle spasms that counteract this natural curve, leading to pain and stiffness in your neck, among other whiplash symptoms.

5) A Good Chiropractor in Lakewood Can Provide Effective Whiplash Treatment

Dr. Jason Jumper is a certified chiropractor serving patients in Lakewood, Colorado. Dr. Jumper is specially trained to diagnose and treat many injuries associated with whiplash.

During an examination, Dr. Jumper will perform a thorough history and physical examination. He may also request x-rays or other medical images, then treat soft tissues and joints in the region using advanced chiropractic techniques.

Dr. Jumper will also equip patients with the tools they need to care for their whiplash at home, including therapeutic exercises and other techniques that can relieve whiplash symptoms. Chiropractic whiplash treatment can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months depending on the severity of your injury.

6) Chiropractic Care For Whiplash Can Relieve Other Symptoms

Whiplash symptoms include more than just pain. Common whiplash symptoms include headaches, neck pain, muscle spasms, migraines, numbness in the arms and hands, carpal tunnel syndrome, pinched nerves, jaw pain, damaged discs, arthritis, fibromyalgia, thoracic outlet syndrome, fatigue, disc bulges, disc herniations, sciatica, and more. A skilled chiropractor can address all of these whiplash symptoms.

If you’re suffering from whiplash injuries in Lakewood, Arvada, Golden, Wheat Ridge, Littleton, or Denver, Colorado, then schedule a free consultation with Dr. Jumper and the team at Renew Chiropractic. Dr. Jumper will explain his recommended treatment for your unique whiplash injury. Then, you can start on the path towards a full recovery. Call 720-493-5885 to book your consultation.