Anxiety after Concussion? Look to the Neck.

Posted in Neck Pain Disorders on Apr 11, 2022

One of the most common symptoms that people can experience after a whiplash or concussion injury is anxiety. The question is why? And what can you do about it? In this article, we will look at the neurology involved to show how anxiety after a concussion may not always be for the reasons that you think, and how a novel approach to healthcare that focuses on the alignment of your upper neck may be able to help. We should make a clear point that it is impossible based on symptoms alone to distinguish the symptoms of concussion from the symptoms of whiplash.

Perhaps with the one exception of blunt force trauma, we would like to challenge you on how it may be possible to injure your head without injuring your neck at the same time. Whether it is a car accident, sports collision, trip, or fall - and even if you didn’t think the force of the injury was particularly large - anything that causes a sudden jarring or stretching of your brain or your spinal cord has the potential to produce concussion or whiplash.

Furthermore, it is not uncommon with concussion or whiplash that you don’t immediately experience any symptoms. Instead, they can slowly creep into your life over a period of weeks in such a way that many people (including the medical professionals who are supposed to diagnose such problems) don’t think to connect the dots between your injury and your symptoms:

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  • Brain fog
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Troubles with memory or concentration
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Sleeping problems

How can a concussion or neck injury cause anxiety?

We will try to make this as simple as possible (but not too simple) to explain how a physical injury to your neck can produce anxiety and other symptoms associated with whiplash. Any impact that causes your neck to snap back and forth has the potential to stretch your spinal cord. Image a balloon with a string attached. The balloon is your brain, and the string is your spinal cord. So, when you tug on the string, it can pull on the base of your brain, which can produce a myriad of problems right there. More on that later.

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Now, from a medical perspective, most paramedics or emergency room doctors specialise in those types of injuries that are severe enough that if you do not act immediately, death or severe disability may ensue. Things like broken bones, bleeding, dislocations, and so forth. Unfortunately, when they tell people that they are “okay,” and that “everything appears normal,” they are neglecting much smaller but still very significant injuries that can go on to have a devastating impact on a person’s life.

One such example is a vertebral misalignment of the craniocervical junction. The craniocervical junction refers to the vertebra at the base of your skull: the C1 (atlas) and C2 (axis). Unlike all other vertebrates in your spine, the atlas and axis do not have any intervertebral discs that lock them into place. Instead, they are suspended by muscles and ligaments, which is what provides humans with the ability to move their heads.

The problem is that when people suffer head or neck injuries, this area is susceptible to damage that can cause these vertebrae to shift and lock out of position. Even if only by a few millimetres, such displacement can easily represent a 20-30% offset from neutral … and yet people are told that “everything is fine” even though they experience all the symptoms of concussion and whiplash. Now, this displacement by itself is not actually the problem. The problem is that the atlas and axis contain ligaments that normally anchor the vertebrae onto your spinal cord and brainstem, and when these vertebrae are offset, it is possible that they may exert a direct mechanical tension that can produce a tugging or irritation effect on the base of your brainstem.

Why does this matter in terms of concussion and whiplash?

It is because the nerve cell clusters at the base of your brain are responsible for processing many vital life functions:

  • Cerebrospinal fluid circulation can become impaired with upper neck misalignment and which can cause a buildup and backlog of pressure
  • Chiari malformation is a herniation of the brainstem outside of the cranial vault that typically puts pressure on the cerebellum and vebstivualr nuclei which are responsible for balance and coordination
  • Disruption of the periaqueductual grey (PAG) function, which is the primary filter that allows your brain to selectively discriminate and focus on different tasks. If this filter is not working properly, it is associated with insomnia and chronic pain

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So where does anxiety fit into the mix here with concussion and whiplash? The answer is twofold. First, when there is a disruption to the normal circulation of fluid within your brain, it can produce systemic irritation that affects all functions of your brain, which can lead to a generalised sense of anxiety. Second, where there is irritation to the sympathetic nerves that supply blood flow to the structures in your neck, these sensory signals are relayed back to your brain pooled in with all of the information that relates to pain, pressure, and other generalised sensations. However, this excessive load of noxious information can effectively overload the processing centres of your brain, which can produce common problems that may include anxiety.

In the end, what we see here is that the neurology of concussion and whiplash as it related to anxiety and depression is quite complex. However, what it also means is that by focusing not only on brain rehabilitation but also on the alignment of those top two bones in your neck, you may be able to improve your quality of life without needing to depend on medication for the rest of your life. Here is where a unique approach to healthcare known as Upper Cervical Care and the Blair Technique may be able to help.

The Blair Technique, Concussion, and Whiplash

When it comes to helping people with concussions, whiplash, and anxiety, a different approach known as the Blair Technique may be one of the key pieces of the puzzle to helping people get their lives back. The Blair Technique belongs to a special division of chiropractic known as upper cervical specific care. Unlike general spinal manipulation that involves twisting or cracking the neck, there is absolutely ZERO stretching, popping, or cracking. This is an important distinction because there are actually MANY types of chiropractors, and not all methods are alike. The Blair Technique is also similar and in the same category as the Atlas Orthogonal and NUCCA techniques, which are close cousins.

The general procedure begins with a focused health history in order to determine if you may be a candidate for the work. In our practice, Atlas Health, located in North Lakes (North Brisbane), we offer a complementary 15-minute consolation to ask a few questions, explain the process and answer any questions so that you can decide if care is right for you.The next step is to perform a targeted physical, neurological, and structural assessment which includes customised diagnostic images which help to show the exact location, directions, and degree of any misalignments or injuries in your neck that could be related to your anxiety, concussion or whiplash symptoms.

With this information, we then put together a personalised care program to help you reach your needs and goals. The process and correction process itself has based on the premise that your body is able to heal itself given the opportunity to do so without interference. So, we aren’t prescribing drugs or anything like that. What we do is perform a gentle and precise correction by tapping on the side of your atlas and axis in the exact direction that we found them to be off their centre position. When we know this information, this is why we don’t need to twist or crack things into place. Even the lightest of forces is enough for the wisdom of your body to do the work … but ONLY if we are exact.

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In this way, the Blair Technique is a non-medical, independent, and highly specific approach to restoring health and wellbeing. If you or a loved one has been dealing with the challenges associated with anxiety, concussion, or whiplash, we hope that this article has been valuable and informative. If you would like to find out how the Blair Technique may be able to help you, you can contact our north Brisbane office at 07 3188 9329 or click the contact us link on this page, and one of our staff will reply as soon as possible.


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