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The Hidden Danger of Whiplash Injuries in Sports

Posted in Head Pain Disorders on Aug 17, 2020

 

Whiplash and Sports … Just because it isn’t NRL or AFL does NOT mean its 100% safe

Contrary to common belief, whiplash and neck injuries are NOT limited to contact sports like football, rugby or hockey.

Any sudden neck “snapping” - whether forwards-backward or sideways - qualifies as a whiplash injury that has the potential to damage the spinal cord, ligaments, or neck muscles. 

Of course, the obvious whiplash injuries involve physical tackling such as in Rugby League, Union, Aussie Rules (AFL), and gridiron (NFL or American Football).

We also include other impact sports such as hockey (including ice hockey or NHL), boxing, wrestling, and roller derby.

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However, think about what happens to your neck if you trip over something on the ground. Even if you land on your arm or tailbone, the impact can be strong enough that it also causes your neck to snap the exact way that happens in a whiplash injury.

So, when considering sports where whiplash happens, we have to consider activities where falling can occur

Let’s start with sports where you essentially stand on your own two feet … that is until your trip, spin or fall: soccer, running (especially cross country or trail running), skating, dancing, and gymnastics are all examples where falling and whiplash injuries are common.

And lest we forget sports where you are riding on something … that is until you fall from it: cycling,  BMX riding, motorcycle riding. horseback riding, surfing (because an impact, whether from a wave or onto a sandbar can be as severe as landing on concrete), skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, jet skiing, and waterboarding are all common examples. 

Whiplash can even happen in a solo activity like swimming or diving if you accidentally smash your head on the bottom or side of the pool.

So you see, just because it isn’t football does NOT mean that it is 100% safe. 

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Whiplash injuries can happen to anyone doing almost anything you can imagine!

The question if it happens to you or a loved one is, “What do you do about it?”

    

Whiplash injuries can occur WITHOUT Pain, Broken Bones or even Blood

 Many people who suffer neck injuries don’t consider the possibility of whiplash because they think that the injury is too minor.

 

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  • “It was just a little fall.”
  • “It was just a fender-bender.”

    “It was just a sprain”
  • “It was just a flesh wound.”

 

Well, just because there aren’t any broken bones or bleeds does NOT always mean that everything is actually okay.

Consider the basic laws of physics: matter and force. Force = acceleration (including deceleration) x mass. If you are traveling in a car, the vehicle around you (and its mass) and traveling at a certain speed so that you can’t really feel the movement.

However, if you suddenly slam on the brakes and are NOT wearing your seatbelt, you will quickly discover that even within a moving vehicle that you can still move a tremendous amount on the inside even if the outside of the car is not involved in a physical collision.

The same may also be true for the structure of your body. If a sudden whiplash injury causes even a tiny shift in the centre of gravity in the joints of your neck, it is possible for the joints to be injured or even entrapped from their normal position.

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When this happens, there is not always a pain. If the damage is so slight, it may not actually produce any symptoms! Furthermore, your body is brilliant at being able to compensate for subtle injuries. It will use adaptive mechanisms to absorb the stress so that you are able to continue to function in daily life.

However, I want you to realise that these very types of injuries are like little debts or “IOU” notes that accumulate interest over a long period of time. Even if the interest rate is low, eventually there will be a major price to pace.

And this is exactly what happens. When people suffer whiplash injuries, they are cleared by the paramedics or hospital (presuming they even get that far!) because they don’t have any pain, broken limbs, or flesh wounds.

Unfortunately, this is EXACTLY how the problems go undiagnosed!  

Then what they do are sit there, slowly accumulating interest and momentum until it begins to affect the adjacent muscles, ligaments, and nerves until the point that you’ve body can’t compensate anymore.

As this happens, people typically attribute their problems to just “getting older” because they don’t link it with a whiplash or neck injury that would have happened 5, 10, or even 20 years ago. However, this is exactly how people develop the types of injuries and conditions that they experience later in life.

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It is simply because time has passed that has allowed these old undiagnosed injuries to accumulate to the point where they are not a big problem.

 

Whiplash in Women and Concussion in Men

The #1 most common sport to cause whiplash injury for men in Australia is AFL and for women it is soccer

Yes, rugby comes a close second, and then followed quickly by … swimming!

And typically, whiplash injuries end up being more severe when they happen to female athletes.

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How is all this possible?

Let’s start in reverse order, looking first at whiplash in women. True, it may have something to do with muscle tone - because typically men have more muscle tone than women. However, even when taken into account, women are still more likely to experience more severe issues than men with whiplash injuries.

The reason that many whiplash specialists, experts, and researchers believe is due to a difference in ligament strength. Ligaments are what keep bones and joints connected in your body, and they aren’t really things that you can strengthen. 

They can heal, and you can build up the surrounding muscle, but you can’t really strengthen ligaments.

Because of differences in male and female hormones, ligaments in women are believed to be “stretchier” and more flexible as a general rule than in men. 

The consequence, however, is a greater chance of injury because ligaments also do not heal quite as well as muscles.

Next, let’s look at why rugby isn’t at the top of the list. It is because there is a difference between concussion and whiplash. 

Well, in many ways they are actually the same thing! In fact, based on symptoms alone it is impossible to tell the difference between concussion and whiplash! That requires additional imaging including x-rays, MRIs, and clinical tests.

The difference is that concussion is a direct skull injury, and whiplash is a neck injury. So in sports like rugby where the players are tackled head-on, head injury and concussion are more likely. However, in sports like AFL where players are tackled from behind and also from the side, neck injury and whiplash are more likely.

(It is also one of the reasons that both whiplash and concussion are so common in American sports including NFL football and NHL ice hockey).

As a general rule, when you do NOT see that an impact is coming, your muscles aren’t able to brace for it, and the result is that the injury affects your ligaments and also your nerves.

That is also one of the reasons why swimming ranks so high on the list. It is because if you hit your head on the side or bottom of the pool, odds are you weren’t expecting it.

So again, especially if your neck goes “crunch,” but even if it doesn’t - and even if you don’t have any blood or broken bones - it is terribly important to have things properly assessed to make sure that you do not develop long term issues.

 

Is whiplash really that severe?

Yes, whiplash really can be that severe.

Often, many of the initial symptoms involve pain or brain fogginess:

 

  • Sore muscles in your neck and shoulders
  • Headaches or even migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog

 

… Now imagine that even a few weeks later the problems are still there. Or even more common that you never had any initial symptoms, but then they gradually start to develop a few weeks or even months later

(I strongly recommend listening to the “Expect Miracles” podcast interview between Dr. Kevin Pecca and Dr. Drew Hall, who discuss this particular issue of how the symptoms of whiplash can appear so long after a head or neck injury that you never think to connect the two!)

The longer the symptoms persist, often the worse they become:

 

  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness or Vertigo
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression or anxiety

 

Many people who suffer the severe forms of whiplash feel like they are losing their minds or slowly dying on the inside. They remember clearly the person they once were and just feel like there is something that is blocking that.

Alas, when the visit so many of the whiplash specialists or experts, even after doing the MRI scans and other tests, they can’t figure out what’s actually going on.

Indeed, there is seldom a single “magic cure” for whiplash injuries, especially if the damage is severe. Nevertheless, by taking care of your neck with the right team of support you can increase your odds of success and taking control of your life again.

 

The Role of the Upper Neck in Whiplash

There is no one “right” answer when it comes to resolving whiplash.

It is because the nature of the injuries often varies. As a result, people may need different combinations of care, and what works for one person may not work for another.

The team often involves a range of specialists and practitioners, who each deals with a particular element of your recovery.

(And sorry, there is not a single “one-stop-shop” for these kinds of things. Yes, some practice may have a range of practitioners with a variety of skills all under one roof. However, to the best of my knowledge, there is no one person who knows everything … and if they DID exist, they’re probably living on a mountain in Tibet with a queue of people all the way down to the bottom and with a waitlist 5-years long).

 

So what might your team look like?

 

  1. Specialist Neurologist - This is a whiplash specialist who is able to work with you to identify pathological damage on MRI scans, and may recommend up or down the conservative chain depending on the severity of the condition. As a general guideline, the best neurologist will be one who advises the most conservative option using the least amount of medication necessary to help relieve your symptoms while simultaneously encouraging you to seek treatment options that allow your body to heal so that you may not need to depend on the medication for the rest of your life.

 

  1. Functional Neurologist - This is usually not a true medical specialist, but is usually someone like a Vestibular Physiotherapist or specially trained Chiropractor who deals with the brain and spinal cord rehab. These are not like typical physics or chiros who may use massage, stretches or manipulation to treat your neck. Instead, they may prescribe specific exercises that involve eye movements. In brief, your eyes (being the window to your brain) can assist with allowing your brain to require itself and to heal when concussion or whiplash injuries are severe. Think of it like defragging a computer, which allows it to operate smoother.

 

  1. Upper Cervical Specific Chiropractor - This is the one you probably haven’t heard of before. Upper cervical chiropractic is another different chiropractic doctor who has advanced certification in the relationship between the neck - particularly the upper neck - and your spinal cord. As before, this type of chiropractor does not use manipulation but instead performs a series of detailed diagnostic tests to determine the exact direction and degree of any physical misalignments in your neck that could be affecting the function of your nerve system. Then, but making a very precise series of correction to restore normal alignment and movement, which allows you body to do what it is meant to do: heal itself.

 

As I’m sure you can appreciate if you have been dealing with a whiplash injury for a long time, you may have been doing some of the right things, but if there is still one missing piece in the puzzle, you may still not be experiencing the outcome you are looking for.   

It is the reason that we have written this article, and we hope that it has been both informative and valuable in your search for a solution if you have experienced a whiplash injury.

 

Whiplash and Upper Cervical Chiropractor Brisbane

If you have been dealing with whiplash and think that you have tried every form of healthcare you can think of only to now discovering this thing called “upper cervical chiropractic,” we would like to encourage you first to visit some of our other pages on the topic so that you can decide if our approach resonates with you.

In brief, the top vertebrae in your neck - the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) - affect the function of nerve impulses and the flow of fluid to-and-from your brain, if these two vertebrae are not alignment or moving properly to support the weight of your skull, then they can affect your nervous system at the master control centre (brainstem) that controls everything in your body.

However, when these vertebrae are aligned and moving properly, then your body has a much greater potential to heal and function the way that it is designed.

Upper cervical care is a natural approach to healthcare that does not use medication or surgery.

Our practice, Atlas Health, is the premier upper cervical healthcare centre in Australia. Located in North Lakes (north Brisbane), we work with clients from across the SE Queensland area, from across the state and even across the country.

Our mission is to help people who have been searching for answers for their chronic health challenges so that they can experience the healing and long term changes so that they can enjoy the quality of life that they desire most. 

Our principal chiropractic doctor, Dr. Jeffrey Hannah, is an advanced certified practitioner with the Blair Chiropractic technique. He is an international lecturer, speaker, author, and recognised leader in the field of upper cervical chiropractic care.

We are happy to offer a complimentary 15-minute over the phone consultation with Dr. Hannah if you would like to discuss your particular condition and to ask any questions so that you can decide if upper cervical care may be right for you.

To schedule a consultation, click the Contact Us, or alternatively call us direct at 07 3188 9329.

We appreciate your trust in your healthcare, and we look forward to hearing from you and offering our assistance to the best of our ability.

Atlas Health Australia - “Hope, healing, and wellbeing from above-down, inside-out.”

 

 

References

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Caccese JB, Buckley TA, Tierney RT, et al. Sex and age differences in head acceleration during purposeful soccer heading. Res Sports Med. 2017 Oct 25:1-11. doi: 10.1080/15438627.2017.1393756. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29067816

Côté P, Yu H, Shearer HM, et al. Non-pharmacological management of persistent headaches associated with neck pain: A clinical practice guideline from the Ontario protocol for traffic injury management (OPTIMa) collaboration. Eur J Pain. 2019 Jul;23(6):1051-1070. doi: 10.1002/ejp.1374. Epub 2019 Feb 28. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30707486

Daligadu J, Haavik H., Yielder PC, et al. Alterations in cortical and cerebellar motor processing in subclinical neck pain patients following a spinal manipulation. Manipulative Physiol Therap. 36(8); 2013:527-537. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24035521

Flanagan MF. The role of the craniocervical junction in craniospinal hydrodynamics and neurodegenerative conditions. Neurology Research International, 2015; Article ID 794829: http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/794829

Higgins JP, Elliott JM, Parrish TB. Brain Network Disruption in Whiplash. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2020;41(6):994-1000. doi:10.3174/ajnr.A6569. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32499250/

Ishida S, Miyati T, Ohno N, et al. MRI-based assessment of the acute effect of head-down tilt position on intracranial hemodynamics and hydrodynamics. J Magn Reson Imaging. 2018 Feb;47(2):565-571. doi: 10.1002/jmri.25781. Epub 2017 Jun 3.

Nolet PS, Emary PC, Kristman VL, et al. Exposure to a motor vehicle collision and the risk of future neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PM R. 2019 Apr 25. doi: 10.1002/pmrj.12173. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31020768

Puerta de Diego R, Elia Martinez JM, Gallart Úbeda V, Meliá Casado B, Tenias Burillo JM. Alteraciones posturográficas y oculomotoras en las primeras 24 horas tras un latigazo cervical [Posturographic and oculomotor findings in the first 24 hours after whiplash] [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jul 13]. Rehabilitacion (Madr). 2020;S0048-7120(20)30056-6. doi:10.1016/j.rh.2020.05.007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32674926/

Rosa S, Baird JW. The craniocervical junction: observations regarding the relationship between misalignment, obstruction of cerebrospinal fluid flow, cerebellar tonsillar ectopia, and image-guided correction. Smith FW, Dworkin JS (eds): The Craniocervical Syndrome and MRI. Basel, Karger, 2015, pp 48-66 (DOI:10.1159/000365470).

Teng CC, Chai H, Lai DM, Wang SF. Cervicocephalic kinesthetic sensibility in young and middle-aged adults with or without a history of mild neck pain. Man Ther. 2007 Feb;12(1):22-8. Epub 2006 Jun 14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16777468

Wong JJ, Shearer HM, Mior S, et al. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration. Spine J. 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2015.08.024. Epub 2015 Dec 17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26707074

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