Whiplash – “What’s Happening in My Head?”
Whiplash or WAD (whiplash associated disorders) are terms usually linked with car crashes and neck injuries, but what about when a head injury or traumatic brain injury (TBI) occurs alongside a WAD?
Our brains are suspended by ligaments inside the skull from which many nerves branch off and exit the skull through small holes (“foramen”) that are located near the orbits (eyes), the ears, the base of the skull, and more. These nerves aid in important functions like the ability to make funny faces, chew, move our eyes, smell, hear, taste, see, swallow, talk/sing, stick out our tongue, shrug our shoulders, and even help regulate heart rate and digestion! In an automobile collision, because of the way the seatbelt crosses at an angle in front of the chest, experiments have found that it is VERY UNLIKELY that the body and head move in a perfect front-to-back direction. Rather, the trunk and head rotate or twist during the forwards and backwards “whiplash” process. This is further exaggerated if the head is turned at the time of impact such as looking in the mirror or at a passenger. This twisting motion distorts the brain as it crashes against the inside of the head, damaging the delicate nerve fibers that allow different parts of the brain to communicate with one another. This damage can lead to “cognitive difficulties” such as losing a thought in the middle of a sentence, difficulty “finding the right words to say” in conversation, and/or difficulty remembering numbers and completing simple math problems. Fatigue, irritability, restless sleep, headache, neck and body aches, agitation, and more are ALL related to the concussion, WAD, TBI, post-concussive syndrome, or whatever we choose to call it!
Studies have shown that the head DOES NOT have to hit anything to result in a TBI. The whiplash mechanism alone is enough to cause a brain injury. As discussed in the past, there are many factors that determine the degree of injury incurred in a car accident, such as the size of the two vehicles, the speed of the collision and subsequent vehicular damage, the long/slender neck vs. short muscular neck (females are at greater risk), the position of the headrest, the angle and springiness of the seat back, head position upon impact, slipperiness of the road surface, and more. These factors make it very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately reconstruct a motor vehicle accident, even in a non-complicated crash.
Getting back to the head and whiplash, there are baseline tests that can be done to determine the extent of damage in TBI, though debate exists as to which approach is the best. Treatment by a multi-disciplinary group of providers including neuropsychology, clinical psychology, nutritionists, and chiropractors, along with meditation, massage therapy, magnetic field, and acupuncture is considered as the most comprehensive and perhaps best approach. The “good news” regarding TBI is that most of these injuries recover within the first three-to-six months post-MVC but for those that do not, TBI can have life-altering residual effects. Doctors of chiropractic are trained to recognize and assess these types of injuries and provide treatment, advice, nutritional counseling, and frequently “team-up” with others in the quest to get you “back to normal” as quickly as possible!