Whiplash injury affects the neck and lower back areas and happens as a result of sudden movements of the neck after an auto accident. These injuries are common in rear-ended collisions. When these collisions happen, your spine and muscles are “caught unawares”—meaning they are not ready for the sudden and involuntary movement. This, in turn, leads to partial tearing of the surrounding muscle tissue.
Also, whiplash leads to the micro-tearing of supporting tissue, thus demoing protection and repair by scar tissue. Most people start experiencing pain when the muscle starts to heal, and the formation of scar tissue begins.
Signs and symptoms of whiplash
Whiplash symptoms do vary from one person to another, and also depending on the magnitude of the impact. However, common symptoms include:
- Stiffness and pain in the neck area
- Coat hanger pain (Pain between the shoulder blades)
- Paid in the shoulder area
- Lower back pain
- Numbness or pain in the arms
- Jaw pain
- Tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears)
Typically, whiplash victims don’t feel the effects immediately after the accident. It takes around 2 – 3 days for the symptoms to start manifesting after the accidents. According to whiplash therapist, Dr. Verg, the delay happens because of the time taken for the scar tissue to form in the strained or sprained area. Moreover, since scar tissue is a bit more adhesive to normal tissue, you are bound to feel stiffness in the area where it forms.
Although whiplash injury mostly affects the neck area, you should never ignore the rest of your body. These injuries can cause the muscles on both sides of the spine to pull together, which can cause lots of pain and discomfort. In case you start to experience stiffness or discomfort in your arms or chest, it can be a result of whiplash.
Managing whiplash injury
Typically, it takes an average of one month for a person with whiplash injury to get better. However, the symptoms can take longer than one month. That’s why you are encouraged to seek chiropractic care after an auto accident, as they are experienced in handling whiplash injury.
Most chiropractors will recommend massage therapy to treat whiplash injury. And, the sooner you receive the treatment, the faster you will heal, and less likely you are to develop neck pain. By nature, massage therapy helps in relaxing muscles. So, any massage therapy that can relax the affected muscles, it can help in relieving the discomfort and pain caused by whiplash injury.
With that said, the following are three different massage techniques for treating whiplash:
- Static compression – when a chiropractor applies static compression to the affected area, it leads to an improved flow of oxygen. This, in turn, helps in relaxing the contracted musculature. Typically, myofascial trigger points affect the cervical muscles after a whiplash injury. Static compression, however, prevents persistent muscular dysfunction, which can last for months, if not years after the car accident.
- Myofascial release – this massage technique helps in freeing restricted fascia and neck muscle, which in turn restores fluidity. Eventually, myofascial release relived the stiffness caused by whiplash. Moreover, myofascial unwinding helps in unlocking dysfunctional fascial holding patterns that happen after an auto accident.
- Deep tissue massage – after relaxing the superficial muscles, deep tissue massage helps in releasing contracted adhesions, deep fascia, as well as scar tissue. Moreover, deep tissue massage helps in freeing tissue that had constricted around local nerves. However, chiropractors are advised to remain within the pain tolerance level of the client.
Extra caution should be observed
The neck is a very sensitive and delicate part of the body. Because of this, chiropractors are advised to observe extra caution when managing whiplash injury. Here are a few guidelines set to help chiropractors and therapists when providing massage to a whiplash victim:
- Since whiplash mostly affects the frontal neck muscles, extra caution should be observed to prevent exerting a lot of pressure on the adjacent carotid artery.
- If possible, administer the massage therapy a few days after the accident. This ensures that the healing process goes on uninterrupted.
- Always consult a doctor before proceeding with massage therapy. This will make sure that there’s no fracture, disc issues, or any other problems, as this will determine the effectiveness of the therapy.
- A gentle approach is advised, as this ensures that the patient doesn’t experience any additional discomfort, from what they are already feeling.
When caution is observed when managing whiplash injury, massage therapy can assist patients to recover faster. However, physicians and bodyworkers should focus on inducing relaxation, easing muscle pain, and unlocking the tension caused by whiplash.