Sources of Pain from Whiplash

When the cervical spine (neck) is subject to a whiplash injury, there is usually a combination of factors that contribute to the back pain and neck pain. These factors must be addressed individually by a chiropractor, while maintaining a “holistic” view of the patient.
The most significant factors resulting from the whiplash injury may include one or more of the following:

1. Chiropractic treatment for joint dysfunction from a whiplash injury
2. Chiropractic treatment for muscle dysfunction from a whiplash injury
3. Chiropractic treatment for faulty movement patterns from a whiplash injury
4. Chiropractic treatment for disc derangement from a whiplash injury

1. Chiropractic treatment for joint dysfunction from a whiplash injury
This occurs when one of the joints in the spine or limbs loses its normal joint play (resiliency and shock absorption). It is detected through motion palpation, a procedure in which the chiropractor gently moves the joint in different directions and assesses its joint play. When a joint develops dysfunction, its normal range of movement may be affected and it can become painful. In addition, joint dysfunction can lead to a muscle imbalance and muscle pain and a vicious cycle:

 The loss of joint play can cause abnormal signals to the nervous system (there are an abundance of nerve receptors in the joint)
 The muscles related to that joint can subsequently become tense or, conversely, underactive
 The resulting muscle imbalance can place increased stress on the joint, aggravating the joint dysfunction that already exists

2. Chiropractic treatment for muscle dysfunction from a whiplash injury
When joint dysfunction develops, muscles are affected. Some muscles respond by becoming tense and overactive, while others respond by becoming inhibited and underactive. In either case, these muscles can develop trigger points.
Trigger points are areas of congestion within the muscle where toxins accumulate (2). These toxins can irritate the nerve endings within the muscle and produce pain. This pain can occur in the muscle itself or can be referred pain (perceived in other areas of the body).
The muscle can also send abnormal neurological signals into the nervous system. This can then cause disruption of the ability of the nervous system to properly regulate muscles in other parts of the body, leading to the development of faulty movement patterns.

3. Chiropractic treatment for faulty movement patterns from a whiplash injury
It is thought that the intense barrage of pain signals from a traumatic whiplash injury to the cervical spine can change the way the nervous system controls the coordinated function of muscles (3). The disruption of coordinated, stable movement is known as faulty movement patterns.
Faulty movement patterns cause increased strain in the muscles and joints, leading to neck pain and back pain. They can involve the neck itself or can arise from dysfunction in other areas of the body such as the foot or pelvis.
Instability is also considered part of faulty movement patterns. There are 2 types of instability that can occur in whiplash (3):

 Passive instability—the ligaments of the neck are loosened; and
 Dynamic instability—the nervous system disruption causes a disturbance in the body’s natural muscular response to common, everyday forces.

As a result of instability, even mild, innocuous activities can become painful.

4. Chiropractic treatment for disc derangement from a whiplash injury

The force of whiplash can cause injury to the discs between the vertebrae and small tears can develop. If the gelatinous middle of the disc seeps out it can irritate the nerve endings in this area. This is known as disc derangement.
Occasionally, the gel can seep all the way out and press on a nerve root exiting the spinal cord behind the disc, known as disc herniation. This may involve pain in the neck as well as sharp, shooting pain down the arm and possibly neurological symptoms such as numbness, tingling and muscle weakness.