Whiplash and concussion are two very similar, life threatening conditions! In Australia, there is a major problem is that so few people realise how similar the two conditions are. Even worse, so few people receive the whiplash and concussion treatment that they require.
As a result, they end up suffering a host of terrible problems for months, years and sometimes decades! It does not have to be that way as long as you know what your whiplash and concussion treatment options are … and as long as you act as soon as possible after your injury (ideally 4-6 weeks, or the injury heals wrong! and will take longer to resolve) (1).
Myths & Facts about Whiplash and Concussion Treatment
Myth #1 - Whiplash is caused by car accidents. Fact #1 - Whiplash injuries are not exclusive to car accidents. Whiplash is any sudden jerking the snaps your neck forwards and then backwards (or in the reverse order).
This can happen on a roller coaster, at a rock concert, falling off a bicycle and smacking your head on the pavement, playing sports, getting hit or tacked without seeing it coming - which is exceptionally common in AFL football - or any variety of other things that happen in day to day life.
Myth #2 - Whiplash is just soft tissue damage that goes away on its own. Fact #2 - Whiplash is damage to the soft tissue of the neck - true - but it does not simply go away on its own. A normal person has a “C” shaped curve in their neck of approximately 20-40 degrees.
A person who has suffered whiplash develops an “S” shaped curve that affects their bones and the discs in their neck. But that isn’t even the big problem! The major problem with whiplash in the neck is that it stretches your spinal cord!
Your spinal cord is a loose piece of string anchored to your skull, the top 3 vertebrae in your neck (C1-C2-C3, which have an intimate relationship with your vital life functions!) and then down at your tailbone. If you suffer whiplash, it is the equivalent of pulling the string tight. It may not kill you, but it has the real potential to affect the way that your nerves fire.
Numerous published studies have demonstrated a vast array of problems that whiplash in the neck is connected to:
- shoulder pain
- low back pain
- jaw problems
- sleep apnoea
- breathing difficulties
- anxiety and depression
- chronic fatigue syndrome and
- fibromyalgia, to name just a few. (2)
Myth #3 - You will have immediate symptoms after a whiplash or concussion injury. Fact #3 - You many not suffer any immediate symptoms after a whiplash or concussions injury - and that is even if you are cleared by paramedics and by the hospital, if they take CTs or MRIs.
There are multiple grades of whiplash and concussion. The most insidious variety are those types of injuries that cause a subtle yet significant stretch on your brainstem and spinal cord, and that take months to develop! The fateful assumption that so many people make is that “I felt fine, and my doctor said I was ‘okay,’ and so I thought I was fine.”
There is a big difference between nothing bleeding, being broken or dislocated … and actually being fine! More on that later, but for now let it suffice to say that when it comes to whiplash or concussions that you don’t just rely on your GP or the hospital for clearance.
Be certain to have you injury assessed by an expert in the nervous system and who understands whiplash and concussion treatment and diagnosis protocols. Myth #4 - You have to lose consciousness to suffer a concussion. Fact #4 - Nope!
In most concussion injuries, you never lose consciousness at all! Much like whiplash is a sudden jerking that pulls on your spinal cord, think of a concussion as a “brain sprain.” As you may know if you have ever sprained your ankle, there is a wide variety of potential injuries from a painful tweak to a snap with massive bruising to a major break that requires surgery.
So too is it with the degree of “sprain” or bruising that you may suffer from a direct head injury. Most of the time when people do suffer a concussion, their only symptoms are a sense of light-headedness, fogginess (i.e., inability to think clearly), and potentially a headache with fatigue later that day.
Again, these are the very types of injuries that most people - even the most loving parents - may overlook as simple “soft tissue injuries” that will pass in just a few days.
Whiplash and Concussion Treatment - They Don't Just Go Away on Their Own
As I’ve alluded before, whiplash and concussion are actually issues that affect the function of your nervous system, which is the electrical system that controls every function in your body. When head and neck injuries happen, they damage the muscles and ligaments that support the vertebrae in your spine - especially the upper vertebrae in the neck, because these are the ones that are the move elastic so that you can move your head.
The problem is that if these vertebrae misalign - not break and not dislocate - but shift even 2-3mm, they have the potential to disrupt the normal function of your nervous system. If you were to break your C1, C2 or C3 vertebrae, it is highly likely that you are looking at either death or complete paralysis.
We aren’t talking about this degree of injury, but still significant enough injuries to this exact same area of the body that reduces the ability of your brain to communicate with the rest of your body.
If your brain is meant to send 100% of nerve impulses, but as a the result of pressure coming from you upper neck it is only operating at 95% capacity, it isn’t going to kill you all at once … but it is going to cause a progressive drain on your body’s resources and lead to a number of health problems down the track.
It is inevitable, much the same if you don’t pay your home mortgage or car loan payments for a few months. Here’s the rub: if your body was able to self-correct these types of injuries, it would and often does! However, if there are no initial symptoms, it is impossible for you to know simply based on “how you feel” if you have suffered the type of injury that your body will be able to self-correct or if you have suffered the type of injury that requires appropriate whiplash and concussion treatment.
If it is simply a matter of soft tissue injury - no misalignment that your body cannot self-correct - the correct course of action you need is with a physiotherapist, who specialises in whiplash and concussion treatment.
If you visit YouTube and search “whiplash physiotherapy exercises” you will likely find many of these activities on your own. However, there is a large percent of the population who have suffered whiplash or concussion, who do not respond well with these exercises - or if they do respond, it is slower than expected.
The likely reason is that they also have a misalignment that is affecting their upper neck and decreasing the ability of their nervous system to recover from the injury. If so, the correct course of action you need is with an Upper Cervical Specific chiropractor, who is able to diagnose the misalignment and who is able to make a precise correction to your upper neck … and then work with the physiotherapist, because then the exercises will work the way that they are supposed to!
Why not a general chiropractor for whiplash and concussion treatment?
There is a big difference between general spinal manipulation and specific correction of the neck. Think of it as the difference between a GP and a neurosurgeon: both knowledgable, but one with additional expertise in the analysis and care of specific disorders to a certain area of the spine.
What an Upper Cervical Specific chiropractor does is focus on the relationship between the nervous system and the top vertebrae in the neck - the C1, C2, and C3.
Research shows that when these vertebrae are properly aligned, there are improvements with blood flow to-and-from the brain, and which is related to improved health outcomes for a variety of conditions that include whiplash and concussion. With Upper Cervical Care, there is no jerking or cracking the neck!
An Upper Cervical doctor first performs a variety of neurological and diagnostic tests - including 3D imaging that is customised for your unique bone structure - in order to determine exactly what is going on in your neck. Once they identify that, they are able to provide a safe and effective non-surgical correction to the alignment of your neck.
Because we know within 0.5 degrees how your vertebrae have moved, we do not need to “crack” your neck in order to align the vertebrae. The procedure involves only a light movement of the wrist, which is equivalent to the amount of pressure you need to click a pen.
Dr Jeffrey Hannah specialises in the Blair Upper Cervical technique. He holds Advanced Certification and is an international instructor and published author on Upper Cervical Specific chiropractic care. His office is located in North Lakes (north Brisbane), Queensland.
If you or a loved one is seeking whiplash and concussion treatment - or has been suffering with any related symptoms but not finding a resolution - please contact our office at 07 3188 9329. We will be happy to assist you in any way that we can.
- Cramer GD, Fournier J, Henderson C. Degenerative changes of the articular processes following spinal fixation. J Chiro Educ 2002;1:7-8.
- Eriksen K. Upper Cervical Subluxation Complex: a review of the chiropractic and medical literature. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins. Baltimore (MD). 2004.
- Smith FW, Dworkin JS (eds): The Craniocervical Syndrome and MRI. Basel, Karger, 2015. DOI:10.1159/000365463.