What are the Mechanics of Injury in Whiplash Trauma

The basics of human anatomy explain that the critical organs in our body are protected by outer, durable structures. Our central nervous system, which governs every other system in our body, is protected by our skull and vertebra (the bones in the spine). The spinal bones (or segments) are attached to each other with ligaments which hold them in their place to support and protect the spinal cord (the Spinal Cord is the extension of the brain into the spine). Also, there are many muscles in the spine; which attach to bones with tendons. When a muscle contracts, it moves the bone(s) in the area of the attachments. Simple movement of the neck takes place when muscles contract.

The design of the vertebral bones are such that they form openings on the sides where nerve roots extend from the spinal cord. The nerve roots send and receive signals (motor and sensory) which include pain fibers. Specifically in the spine, between the vertebral bones are spacers called discs. Discs are a composed of an outer layers which is similar to ‘Silly Putty’ and has some strength, but with a certain level of pressure (or force) can be pushed out of position. The inner element of the disc is more like a jelly compound.

The Ligaments and Tendons are attached to bones with a fairly strong fibrous element, but it’s not super glue! Whiplash takes place, typically, when your are in a stable position and struck from the rear with a strong force. When you experience a significant force of acceleration and deceleration of the spine (Cervical Acceleration Deceleration or CAD is a technical term used for Whiplash), the ligaments and tendons in the neck are pulled away from their attachment sights causing ‘Sprained Ligaments’ and ‘Strained Muscles’. This is where you might see in your treatment notes or reports that you experienced a ‘Sprain/Strain’ of a region of your spine. Either the sprain or strain will cause pain fibers to signal trauma in the region.

Also, when your vertebrae are moved at an accelerated speed with an excessive amount of force, the vertebrae ‘sheer’ over each other causing the spacers or discs to be displaced; also described as herniated. The herniation (or bulge) may protrude into the space where the nerve root extends from the spinal cord causing severe pain. The sprained ligaments or strained muscles also cause pain. These injuries are the most elementary, but accurate account of ‘Whiplash’ trauma.
There are multiple levels of classification of Whiplash which are influenced by factors beyond the presentation of this blog.

If you or someone you know has experienced Whiplash injury, you are advised to seek examination, evaluation and treatment by a Chiropractor (Doctor of Chiropractic) who has received advanced training on the examination, evaluation, and treatment protocols for Whiplash.

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