Neck Injury – Sometimes It’s Not “Just Whiplash”

What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is one of the most common personal injury diagnoses following a car accident. When an ER doctor examines a patient complaining of neck and/or upper back pain following any type of automobile accident, and there are no obvious bleeding or broken bones, the common course of evaluation is cervical x-rays and/or thoracic x-rays, and then a written prescription for pills. Most ER doctors will also hand out an informational pamphlet that essentially says “Give it a few days, rest up, and you’ll be fine.” And sometimes that’s true. But more often than the insurance communities want to admit, it’s not.

Mayo Clinic defines whiplash as “a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck, like the cracking of a whip.” Ouch. But our bodies are amazing creations, and when given the opportunity through physical therapy and rest, they can sometimes recover from this type of trauma to the bones, muscles, ligaments and tissues that keep our heads attached to the rest of our body. Unfortunately, many people are not so lucky and there are many significant injuries that can result from what is often minimized as “just whiplash.” Some of those conditions include bulging, herniated, or ruptured discs, spinal fractures, and concussions or traumatic brain injuries. Another lesser known injury that most often results in chronic neck pain and headaches is known as ligament laxity.


Ligament Laxity

Our necks are marvelous works of engineering, and are comprised of dozens of muscles, ligaments, and tendons that all work together to keep our neck and head in proper alignment to prevent pain from undue pressure on our spinal discs, nerve impingement, and other potential complications. Two of the most important, yet least known or discussed, are the Alar Ligaments and their accessory (supporting) ligaments. These ligaments work like finely tuned rubber bands that maintain just the right amount of tension to allow full movement of the upper neck, but not too much movement. When those ligaments are violently whipped and stretched beyond their capacity, they can’t always recover. Just like a rubber band that’s lost its full elasticity and can’t hold your pile of papers together anymore, ligaments that are violently whipped and stretched too far can lose their proper tension and become lax. This allows for the development of a host of cascading problems in the movement and function of the upper neck, many of which can lead to undiagnosed chronic pain.

I have represented many clients suffering from chronic neck pain caused by a car, truck, or motorcycle accident. The key to their recovery was a complete diagnosis. If you are suffering from chronic neck pain, headaches, or loss of balance when turning or tilting your head, or any other symptoms that started with a car accident and haven’t healed, we encourage you to talk to a doctor or chiropractor about undergoing a digital motion x-ray to better evaluate the source of your injuries. There’s a good chance it’s not “just whiplash”.