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How Do Whiplash Injuries Happen in Denver?

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How Do Whiplash Injuries Happen in Denver?

Woman with whiplash injury in Denver, Colorado

How Do Whiplash Injuries Happen in Denver? A “whiplash” injury occurs when there is a sudden acceleration of head and neck forcing the head back and then forward.  This “whips” the soft tissue (muscles, ligaments, and tendons) of the neck and upper back. This sprains the ligaments and tendons of neck and upper back and strains the muscles of the front and back of the cervical and thoracic spine. While this type of injury usually occurs in rear-end collisions it also happens in contact sports, “slip and falls”, and even assaults. The first symptoms of whiplash injuries are usually muscle tightness and pain. Whiplash injuries in Denver happen every day.

How Do Whiplash Injuries Happen in Denver?

During the first 50-100 milliseconds, the bodies of the passengers in the car being rear ended continue to move forward while the head basically stays still. This causes the forward-facing curve of the neck to straighten. During the next 100-200 milliseconds, the lower half of the neck extends backwards while the upper half flexes forward.  Next, the head begins to accelerate backwards (ideally) stopping when it strikes the headrest.  The last phase of a whiplash injury involves the head and neck accelerating forward (ideally) stopped by their seat belt or air bag.  The entire process takes just 300 msec. The entire event occurs faster than you can brace yourself, even if you are anticipating the accident.

Tissues injured in whiplash accidents (also called an “acceleration / deceleration injury”) include all of the major types of connective tissue in the neck and upper back. This includes muscles, ligaments, tendons, capsules, and intervertebral discs. Concussions, which are brain trauma or “traumatic brain injuries”, can also occur. Not only do these injuries happen in just a third of a second, but they can also occur at speeds of just 5 miles per hour. In fact, injuries to brain tissue can occur without hitting your head at all. The motion of the brain moving inside the skull after rapid acceleration or sudden stops can damage the very sensitive brain tissue.

What Affects How Serious a Whiplash Injury Is?

Whiplash injuries in Denver can be very complex, involving many different factors. The angle and firmness of the seat, headrest position, the size and stature of the passengers (women are more likely to suffer whiplash injuries than men), the position of the passenger’s head at the time of the accident, the direction the passenger was looking during the accident, road condition, the size of the vehicles involved, the list goes on and on.

The symptoms of whiplash can vary but most frequently include neck pain and stiffness, sore muscles, painful ligaments and tendons (called myofascial pain), headaches, and dizziness (vertigo).  Other common symptoms of whiplash include burning, tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, and pain radiating to other areas like the shoulder blades, upper-back, arm, head, or face. Signs of a concussion include difficulty concentrating, memory loss, anxiety, depression, nervousness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and more.

After a car accident, what causes neck or back pain? Is it the muscles? The ligaments… joints… tendons? Because there are so many different symptoms linked to whiplash injuries, “whiplash associated disorders” or WAD is a term that’s often used to describe these symptoms.

whiplash treatment near me
Whiplash is a serious injury that can occur at speeds of just 5 mph.

The four categories of WAD:

1) Few symptoms and few or no exam findings

2) More symptoms and positive exam findings but no nerve pain (pain that radiates)

3) Nerve pain and numbness, tingling and/or muscle weakness

4) Fracture and/or dislocations

The term “cervical sprain/strain” refers to injuries of the ligaments, tendons, or muscles. The function of these different tissues are listed below.

  • Muscles move bones and joints and are very elastic, shortening and lengthening to perform their job.
  • Ligaments connect two bones together at a joint and can exist both inside and outside of a joint.
  • Tendons connect muscles to bone.

The term “strain” refers to injuries to muscles and/or tendons while “sprain” refers to injuries of ligaments or joint capsules. Both strains and sprains can be graded to describe how serious the tissue has been injured.

Three Grades of Whiplash Injuries

The severity of soft tissue injuries is mainly divided into three Grades:

  • Grade 1 or First degree
  • Grade 2 or Second degree
  • Grade 3 or Third degree

Grade 1 soft tissue injury:

  • The patient experiences “mild” amounts of pain at the time of or within the first 24 hours of the injury.
  • A mild amount of swelling at the sight of the injury.
  • Localized tenderness is felt in the immediate area of the injury.
  • The patient experiences pain with movement of the injured joint or tissue.

Grade 2 soft tissue injury:

  • The patient feels a “moderate” amount of pain.
  • Even small amounts of movement of the injured joints or tissue increase the level of pain.
  • There is damage or tearing of the connective fibers because of the injury.

Grade 3 soft tissue injury:

  • There is a complete tear or near-complete tear of soft tissue.
  • Patient experiences “strong” or even “severe” pain.
  • Sometimes avulsion (complete separation of soft tissue from the bone) is seen.
  • Due to tearing of the soft tissue, joint instability is often seen.

Healing time for these types of injuries depends on the severity of the injury and the type of treatment the patient receives.  Pain from whiplash injuries can last for weeks, months, or even years. In fact, up to one quarter of car accident victims end up with permanent back pain, neck pain, or headaches.

One of the things that makes whiplash injuries different from other types of injuries is the many layers of muscle in the cervical spine.  In addition to the many layers of muscle involved, the layers are arranged in many different directions. This is because the neck needs to be able to flex, extend, and rotate in many different directions.  The external muscles tend to be long, broad, and strong.  The deeper, more internal muscles are shorter and smaller to perform finer motor control and coordination. 

Properly treating whiplash injuries requires a variety of different providers performing different types of care. This includes chiropractors, medical doctors, physical therapists, massage therapists, acupuncturists, and even psychologists (to treat PTSD).  Ideally these providers will work together to with the shared goal of returning the patient to “pre-injury status”. This means the patient can return to performing normal activities symptom free.

What is the Prognosis for Whiplash?

Despite the potential for long term pain and even disability, the prognosis of WAD is typically pretty good.  Some patients can recover from their injuries without any long-term problems, sometimes within a few weeks.  Many of the people injured in auto accidents recover from their injuries within 60 to 90 days after their accident. Unfortunately, others aren’t that lucky. 

Some people will continue to experience neck and back pain, stiffness, headaches, and even symptoms of post-concussive syndrome (traumatic brain injury or TBI). TBI’s can affect mental function, memory, vision, and other higher brain functions including personality changes, increased anxiety, and even speech. Typically, the higher the WAD category, the worse the prognosis. However, every whiplash injury should be managed based on an individual basis, catered to the patient’s specific injury.

A medically integrated practice with chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists, and medical providers has proven to be the most effective way to treat whiplash injuries.

Care for the WAD patient typically includes chiropractic adjustments, active and passive joint mobilization, acupuncture (or dry needling), and home exercise programs (HEP). Nutritional supplements can also play an important role in preventing inflammation and reducing pain. A few of these include are ginger, turmeric, bromelain, papain, devil’s claw, boswellia extract, rutin, vitamin D, and coenzyme Q10. Special diets can also prove very beneficial for reducing inflammation and promoting healing.

If you think you have suffered a whiplash injury, schedule a free consultation with us today!