Understanding Head Whiplash
One of the most common things that people tell me when they visit our office months (or years) after a head whiplash injury is, “Well I felt fine, so I didn’t think I needed to do anything about it.”
When it comes to head whiplash, that is a receipt for disaster! Head whiplash is not just a muscle injury: it is a brain and spinal cord injury.
It’s basically a concussion of the spinal cord in your neck.
It can also be exceptionally deceptive because you don’t always have immediate pain after a head whiplash injury! Often, the symptoms may not appear for days, weeks or even months later!
Here’s why. In your neck you have three types of nerves: 1) sensory nerves, which detect physical damage and register as “pain;” 2) motor nerves, which control your muscle movement; and 3) autonomic nerves, which control your internal organs and all the things that you don’t have to consciously control in your body.
Here’s the thing: IF a head whiplash injury affects only the motor or the autonomic nerves, you may not feel any pain at all! Maybe some tight muscles that you attribute to too much time on the computer or bad posture, but it’s not that at all!
A head whiplash injury has the potential to affect the way that the master control system of your body is able to work, and repair and heal.
So even though you might think that “everything is okay,” the reality is that there is usually trouble brewing beneath the surface … and if left alone without the right treatment long enough that head whiplash will eventually show itself in unpleasant ways.
If you’ve experienced a new or even an old head whiplash injury, I hope you will find this article valuable … and most importantly, that you will decide to take the right action to have your neck properly assessed to make sure that the head whiplash injury will not develop into anything nastier.
Head Whiplash Symptoms
If there are any initial symptoms of a head whiplash injury, they usually involve tight muscles or a strained-neck feeling. Often, people also have pain turning their heads even if they say that “it wasn’t a major injury.”
Here’s why. Your brain is not stupid. If even one muscle fiber in your neck is tweaked, your brain will force all the other muscles in your neck to seize and lock to protect you from further damage. It’s called splinting (which is similar to a neck muscle spasm but not really).
Beyond pain, there are a few other keys thing to look for following a head whiplash injury:
- Difficulty with memory or concentration
- Problems sleeping (or even sleeping too much)
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Headaches or migraines
- Mood swings or personality changes
- “Brain fog”
These symptoms can range from a minor annoyance to completely life-disrupting. Usually, it is not until symptoms become severe enough to where the problem is affecting your work, your sleep, your family time, your exercise routine, etc that people finally decide to take action.
The question then is, “Who do I see for head whiplash?” If you have suffered a new injury, you might think to see a head whiplash specialist or a physiotherapist or a general chiropractor or a massage therapist …
BUT WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOU EXPERIENCE THE SYMPTOMS OF HEAD WHIPLASH BUT YOU HAVEN’T SUFFERED A RECENT INJURY?
Here is where a different type of treatment called Atlas or Upper Cervical Healthcare may be able to help you.
Head Whiplash Causes
Before getting into this thing called Atlas Healthcare, we need to look at what happens when you suffer a head whiplash injury.
The classic example of a head whiplash injury is a car accident. You’re driving along, and suddenly you get hit. Your head snaps back-and-forth, spraining and straining the muscles and ligaments in your neck. The head whiplash can also stretch your spinal cord.
Not like the type of injury that can cause paralysis, but certainly the kind that can disrupt the normal flow of nerve energy from your brain to the rest of your body.
The part that many people who experience head whiplash injuries don't realise is that even minor injuries like fender benders can cause very serious damage. It is because if the car does not crumple, all that force goes directly into your body!
There is a brilliant demonstration of this phenomenon on Youtube called The Convicer at the University of Hartford on the importance of seatbelts at a mere 8 kilometres per hour. Just watch these people’s necks!
So consider all the potential injuries or causes of a head whiplash injury that you may never have even considered could have been related to your current situation:
- Headbanging at rock concerts
- Trampoline falls
- Roller coasters
- Tripping over a kerb (or on root if hiking)
The list is potentially endless and likely filled with stuff that you have forgotten about completely. But just because you may not be able to remember the injury does NOT mean that it didn’t happen
What to do about Head Whiplash
Depending on the nature of the head whiplash injury, if the injury is severe enough it is important to make sure that you haven’t broken or concussed anything. This may require a CT or MRI scan at the hospital.
BUT don’t make the mistake that just because the hospital says that, “You’re fine,” doesn’t mean that you really are fine. When the hospital says you find it, it means that there isn’t anything that is medically going to kill you. There can still be plenty of things that can make you less well though over a long enough period of time.
So here is where that unique approach called Atlas or Upper Cervical Healthcare may be able to help. Upper cervical care is a special division of chiropractic practice that focuses on the alignment of the top bones in the neck - the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2) - because of their unique and powerful role in affecting the function of the nervous system.
Unlike many forms of general chiropractic, upper cervical care does not involve any spinal manipulation (i.e., neck twisting or cracking). Ir is a precise and gentle and powerful form of care that has helped many people with head whiplash. I will describe the diagnostic process and procedure a little later in this article, but for now, I simply wanted to introduce this idea to you that head whiplash often involves an injury or misalignment of the top bones in the neck.
Head Whiplash causes in Adults
Your atlas (C1) and axis (C2) are responsible for 50% of the total movement in your head and neck. They also are the gateway for all the traffic from your lower body into your brain. Nothing goes in or out without going past the C1 or C2 vertebrae first.
The trade-off for this amount of flexibility is that the joints are susceptible to injury. A large enough head whiplash injury could cause a fracture or dislocation, but we aren’t talking about that level of injury. What we are talking about is an injury that causes these vertebrae to misalign by 2-4mm. As small as that sounds, that represents a 20-40% deviating from the normal position of those bones.
If then, these vertebrae get locked out of normal position and can’t realign on their own, no matter what stretch or exercise or massage you do they will still be stuck that way until you are able to get them unstuck with a specific correction.
Now, it’s not actually the bones that are the problem … but it is how these bones affect your brainstem and spinal cord that actually matters. Your C2 and C2 protect your brainstem, which is the master control center of your body. If they are misaligned, they can produce tension or interference on your nerves which can in turn produce the symptoms we described previously about head whiplash.
Many times, adults interpret the increasing pain or discomfort as “just getting older.” Nothing could be farther from the truth! Things don’t happen in the body for no reason, and just because you are older does not mean that your health needs to suffer.
Head Whiplash causes in Children
Head whiplash injuries can also happen in childhood, even though the symptoms will be a little harder to identify.
First, I will state emphatically that headaches and neck pain are never NEVER normal for children! In my opinion, that should be an immediate sign that kids have their neck properly assessed to make sure that they don’t have a condition that will affect the structure of their bodies and of their health for decades to come.
We talked about how car accidents are a classic example of a head whiplash injury. But remember that we also said that any injury where your head snaps forwards and back can also produce head whiplash.
Well, consider the possibilities in kinds with the exact same type of injury:
- Running and tripping over things
- Falling off monkey bars and slides
- Crashing off bikes and skateboards
- Tackling or sliding playing sports
Arguably, head whiplash injuries can be even more common in children than they are in adults?
But because the symptoms aren’t always obvious, so many kids grow up with head whiplash injuries that don’t really show themselves until they get older: headaches, migraines, dizziness, etc.
And then it’s just attributed to using computers too much or stress or getting older.
Chiropractic Head Whiplash Diagnostic
We said it before that head whiplash is not simply a neck injury: it is potentially a brainstem and spinal cord injury. We also repeat: just because you don’t have broken bones does NOT always mean that everything feels fine.
The recommendation then IF you want to ensure that a head whiplash injuries do NOT affect your life in negative ways is to make sure that the bones in your neck - especially the C1 and C2 - are properly aligned.
And this is the focus of Upper cervical chiropractic North Lakes. We are the only Brisbane chiropractor, physiotherapist, or health clinic offering this unique solution for helping people with head whiplash.
So what is the process to find out if your upper neck is properly aligned if you have suffered a head whiplash injury?
Step #1 - Physical examination. We perform a series of specific tests that examine your posture and the movement of the joints in your neck. If you have tight muscles causing bad posture, it is because your brain is causing them to be that way. By assessing the physical structure of your body in ways not down with other North Lakes chiropractors, we are able to have a greater appreciation of the true nature of your condition.
Step #2 - Neurological assessment. We do NOT just have you lie down and crack your neck on every visit. Foremost WE DON’T CRACK THE NECK AT ALL! What we do on every visit to determine if you need treatment for head whiplash is a computerised neurological test called infrared thermography, which is a measure of the activity of your autonomic nervous system.
With this information, we can see what your brain and nervous system are doing: if you are in a healing pattern, or if you are going int eh wrong direction. We don’t play guessing games with your health.
Step #3 - Personalised X-Ray Images. Standard CTs and MRIs are done lying down and from neutral angles. But when you take images this way, it is possible that you don’t see everything. Plus, your bones are different from everyone else’s! At our Brisbane chiropractor office, we make our own films to save you the trouble of multiple appointments PLUS we take them from customised angles so that the information we get is specific for you.
That way, when we are treating your neck to help you with head whiplash, we know that we have exactly the right information that allows us to make the best possible choices for the best possible results.
Chiropractic Treatment for Head Whiplash
If you have never heard of an “Upper cervical Brisbane chiropractor” before, I am not surprised, There are presently only 5 chiropractors in all Australia doing this work. And at present, we are still only North Lakes chiropractor - in fact, the only one in Brisbane! - with Advanced post-doctorate certification to provide this work.
In my career, I have had the pleasure to work with many people experiencing head whiplash and other neurological ailments. One of the things that we do that is so different is that we aren’t just treating you for the symptoms of head whiplash. WE WANT TO HELP CORRECT THE CAUSE.
As Dr Reggie Gold says, “Nature needs no help, just no interference!”
By working to restore the alignment and movement through your upper neck (and lower neck, when needed), we find that we are able to help people to be able to heal the way that their bodies are naturally designed to do. And by doing that, we find that many people finally experience relief from head whiplash that they haven’t been able to find anywhere else.
Certainly, we don’t want to make any recommendations or claims without doing a proper assessment for you first. What we would like to simply do at this point is to offer you hope. And then, if you have found value in reading this article - if it makes sense, and if it resonates with you, then we’d like for you to get in contact with us.
You can send us an email through this page, of you can give us a class at our North Lakes chiropractor office at 07 3188 9329. That way, you can have a chat with one of our doctors of upper cervical chiropractic to find out if the approach we offer may be right for you to help you with your head whiplash.
Take care of your neck and start living life again!
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