Neck pain, along with lower back pain, is an extremely common condition and reason that people pay a visit to their doctor. Most cases of neck pain can be attributed to problems that lie within the musculoskeletal system, which includes the bones of the spine (the vertebrae), and the soft tissues (the muscles and ligaments) that give the spine necessary support. The flexibility of your neck can be a double-edged sword – it is needed in order to accommodate the broad range of motion of our head, but it leaves it particularly susceptible to injuries and wear and tear.
The neck, frequently referred to as the cervical spine, contains seven vertebrae. Most are very similar and are separated by an intervertebral disc made up of cartilage that surrounds an inner nucleus made up of a jelly-like substance. The uppermost vertebrae in the neck, the atlas (C1) and axis (C2) are unique because they bear the weight of the head above and are responsible for the majority of its movement. Through a canal that runs through the center of the vertebrae passes the brainstem as it exits from the base of the skull and the spinal cord. From the spinal cord branch nerve roots that emerge from between the vertebrae that connect with nerves throughout the body that control movement and sensation. To tie everything together, the neck has multiple muscles and ligaments to give it support.
When the neck is forced into rapid flexion and extension and any of the abovementioned tissues are damaged, it is referred to as a whiplash injury. Neck pain that occurs due to whiplash injury can linger for months or even years beyond when the initial event occurred.
How Does Whiplash Occur?
Most people associate whiplash with a rear-end automobile accident, but that’s certainly not the only way in which a whiplash injury can occur. Any event that causes a forceful, quick back-and-forth movement of the neck can damage and strain the soft tissues of the neck and cause associated spinal problems. This sudden flexion and extension of the neck, similar to the cracking of a whip, can also happen as a result of a sports-related accident, physical abuse, or other trauma. Tissues that can be impacted include:
- Spinal ligaments
- Intervertebral joints
- Cervical spine muscles
- Nerve roots
What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?
The most obvious sign of whiplash is neck pain and stiffness. However, there are many other symptoms associated with a whiplash injury that may arise immediately after the incident or that might show up at a later point in the healing process. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Neck pain and stiffness
- Loss of neck range of motion
- Pain that worsens with head or neck movement
- Headaches, particularly those that begin at the base of the skull
- Shoulder pain
- Upper or mid-back pain
- Numbness and/or tingling in the arms or hands
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Blurred vision
- Cognitive changes, including difficulty concentrating or memory issues
- Poor sleep quality
- Mood changes, including increased irritability, anxiety, and depression
As you can see, the effects of whiplash extend far past simple neck pain and can cause a major disruption in a person’s ability to perform basic daily tasks like shampooing their hair, tying their shoes, or driving a car.
Is Lasting Neck Pain Relief Possible?
Many whiplash sufferers will suffer from chronic neck pain and other associated and long-lasting complications as a result of their injury. Treatment for individuals suffering from the effects of whiplash usually includes a combination of pain medications, anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and even anti-depressants. The neck might be immobilized in a cervical collar for a period of time following the injury.
Despite all of the best common treatment protocols, the reality is that neck pain, stiffness, and other whiplash symptoms may persist because the underlying injury to the spine was never corrected. When the head, which weighs an average of 12-13 pounds in an average adult, snaps back and forth and damages the tissues of the neck it leads to a misalignment of the atlas, the vertebra that forms a junction between the neck and skull. Malposition of the atlas vertebra can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on your body’s ability to recover following a whiplash injury. When the atlas misaligns, it disrupts normal neurological function, blood flow, and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) flow. These three factors play a critical role in the body’s ability to repair damage. If tissues are not receiving normal neurological communication or oxygenated blood, their ability to heal and function properly is diminished.
Upper cervical chiropractic care is a branch of chiropractic that focuses on correcting the position of the atlas. When the atlas is off, the weight of the head is not centered over the neck properly, which forces the rest of the spine into a stressed position to compensate. The benefits of visiting an upper cervical specific chiropractor are many:
- Practitioners take the time to understand the history of your injury and perform a thorough analysis.
- Low-force adjustments that are customized for each patient – upper cervical chiropractic care is NOT a one size fits all approach and doesn’t require any forceful popping or twisting of the neck.
- Precise adjustments are designed to hold in place for longer, giving your body the time it needs to heal naturally.
If you have been living with the after-effects of a whiplash injury or any other cause of chronic neck pain, find an upper cervical chiropractor near you and schedule a consultation so that your ongoing pain can become a thing of the past.
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