--- What is Whiplash, and how can your osteopath help ? ---

Whiplash injury is generally defined as injury to the cervical spine. It is when the body experiences a sudden change of speed, causing the head to “whip” away from the rest of the body.The rest of the body, however, may still experience trauma. The whiplash injury can be more or less severe depending on the type of injury mechanism, so the consequences of whiplash may range from little to no pain, to cervical spine sprain and fracture.

Whiplash: Causes and Symptoms
Any situation where the body undergoes a sudden change of speed can potentially cause a whiplash injury. The most frequent cause are traffic accidents, but whiplash may also be caused by a simple fall, being pushed or shoved, a wrong step during a sporting activity, some topsy-turvy rides, bungee-jumping etc. Symptoms vary from one individual to the next, and how the shock happened. For example, if an individual expects the impact or does not makes a major difference in the extent of the damage because, if a sudden impact is not expected, for example during a traffic accident, the muscle system will not have time to contract in order to protect underlying structures such as the spine.

Neck pain, however, is typical to a whiplash injury. The pain can come immediately after or a few hours later. Some people only feel the symptoms days, weeks or even months later!
Other symptoms linked to whiplash are:
·         Headaches (often starting at the base of the skull, travelling to the front of the head)
·         Dizziness and nausea
·         Heavy headedness
·         Tingling
·         Jaw pain
·         Shoulder pain
·         Fatigue, drowsiness
·         Lower back pain
·         Hearing and vision problems
·         Sleep disorders

Why see an osteopath after a whiplash injury?
Obviously, if the injury is severe, it is recommended you go to the hospital in first instance. Imagery will indeed be useful for the osteopath as well. During a whiplash injury, the shock wave will propagate far beyond the cervical spine and will leave a trace all along the spine, from the cranium all the way to the tail bone.

Whiplash is very well known amongst osteopaths. We search for it almost systematically during the course of a session, the cranium the spine and the pelvis being essential elements for an osteopath. During a whiplash injury, the cranium (the occiput mainly) and the pelvis (the sacrum essentially) will lock up because of the sudden change of speed. As a consequence, the dura-mater (anatomical structure which protects the brain and the spinal cord) will tighten-up and will influence the central nervous system. This is why patients may present neurological symptoms. The osteopath will, firstly, make sure these structures are able to move freely. He will then work on other areas of the body, depending on each individual patient.

It’s important to understand that even a mere fall can cause whiplash, from an osteopathic point of view, and possibly go unnoticed because the patient presents no obvious symptoms. Time goes by, and this minor fall is forgotten. The whiplash will express itself insidiously, with chronic pains, recurring headaches, lower back, middle back and neck pain etc. Whiplash may therefore express itself long after the incident actually happened.

How to prevent whiplash?
Whiplash injury occurs during an accident, which is by definition unpredictable. It is, however, recommended to see an osteopath, even if the physical trauma seems minor and with no apparent symptoms. The body is very clever at avoiding pain, for as long as it can! Best to fix it before the whiplash settles in and lead to chronic pains and functional disorders.

Whiplash: advice from the osteopath
If the physical trauma leading to the whiplash injury is severe, and pains and symptoms are very acute, it is recommended to go to the hospital. Imagery will indeed be useful for the osteopath as well. While you wait for your appointment, you can try heat the area to relieve some pain. If it is painful to move your neck, wear a neck-brace for certain tasks requiring effort. But mostly, rest well!

Christopher Diciolla, Osteopath