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How the Brain Changes in Whiplash Injuries

How the Brain Changes in Whiplash Injuries

Imagine what it would be like to have a fall or accident in your teens, only to suffer from those whiplash symptoms decades later.  That’s what happened to my patient, Bob. 

Bob is a 57-year-old-man who came to me in my Norwalk clinic because he’d been suffering from Bell’s palsy—muscle weakness that causes drooping on one side of the face—for about seven years.  His symptoms were severe, including:

·         Drooling

·         Disordered movements in the facial movements that affected his expressions

·         Headaches

·         Tearing

·         Loss of taste

·         Hypersensitivity to sounds

After reviewing all his X-rays, I’d noticed a severe neck injury that must’ve been many years old. Bob told me about a major accident he’d had decades earlier. He was 17, out for a joy ride with a friend, wearing no seatbelt, and racing towards his youthful adrenaline between the lines on the road.  Sadly, his night was cut short when he was involved in a severe accident that killed his friend and nearly stole his life too.  He wasn’t expected to make it through. 

Whiplash after an accident can lead to serious long-term repercussions if not treated from the beginning.  But the good news is that it’s reversible.  Within just a few visits, Bob saw significant relief in his symptoms.  His whiplash treatment regimen was a critical part of his recovery.  He now lives a full and active life without the pain and discomfort of a long-ago tragedy. 

The Brain at the Onset of Whiplash Injuries

In severe accidents where you lose consciousness for any period, the brain develops lesions in the prefrontal cortex.  This is the area of the brain responsible for executive functions like focus, being able to predict the consequences of your actions, impulse control, and management of emotional reactions.  Lesions can also appear in deeper structures of the brain if the injury is bad enough. 

The Long-Term Effects and Symptoms of Whiplash Injuries

Just because a whiplash injury doesn’t knock you unconscious, doesn’t mean it can’t become problematic.  Symptoms of chronic whiplash injuries include:

·         Severe chronic shoulder and neck pain

·         Ringing in the ears

·         Blurry vision

·         Severe headaches

·         Sleep difficulties

·         Memory problems

·         Difficulty with focus and concentration

In 2016, a study revealed changes in the pain and posture processing part of the brain many years after the accident.  They were looking for a way to help people suffering from chronic whiplash associative disorder—a problem with motor, sensorimotor, and sensory functions.  Whiplash can happen at low speeds, so people don’t always see their doctor right away, often leaving the injury untreated for years.  When they do seek attention, it’s difficult to impossible to see anything on tests.  In the study, researchers identified where the pain is occurring.  There is restricted blood flow from the neck to areas in the brain involved with pain perception and sensory processing from inside the body.     

Treating whiplash injuries quickly is critical to avoid long-term damage to nerves, muscles, tendons, and the brain.  Proper whiplash treatment can reverse symptoms; however, the severity and type of injury will determine the path of your treatment plan.  In all cases, it’s best not to wait.  Contact Slovin Chiropractic Center today for a consultation. 


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Sources:

Medical Life Sciences:  Changes in the pain and posture processing parts of the brain could cause whiplash symptoms.

BC Medical Journal:  Purports Of Brain Damage Following Presumed Whiplash Injury

Science Direct: Whiplash symptoms are caused by actual changes in the brain

Accident-Caused Whiplash Injury?

7 Behaviors to Stop NOW

If you’ve ever been in an auto accident or know someone who has, you’re likely familiar with the severe symptoms of a whiplash injury. These can show up immediately to several days after the crash and include problems like:

·         Neck pain and stiffness

·         A neck injury in the tissues or muscles

·         Reduced range of motion in the neck

·         Sudden, sharp pains with neck movement

·         Shoulder, upper back, and arm pain, tenderness, or tingling

·         Dizziness

·         Fatigue

·         Headaches usually starting at the base of the skull

Depending on the extent and duration of the whiplash injury, you may also experience systemic symptoms, like:

·         Irritability

·         Depression

·         Sleep disturbances

·         Difficulty with focus, concentration, and memory

·         Tinnitus

·         Blurry vision

What to Know About Treating a Whiplash Injury

An automobile accident isn’t the only way to get a whiplash injury. Other causes include physical abuse or assault and contact sports, like football and even a rollercoaster ride.

We generally see whiplash symptoms within the first few hours of an accident, but they could also take weeks to manifest. Talk to a chiropractor after any event that forces your neck to extend and flex unnaturally.  It’s the best way to avoid long-term chronic pain issues resulting from an untreated or poorly treated whiplash injury. 

What the Science Says About Whiplash Treatments

In 2002, research published in the Emergency Medicine Journal reported several additions to whiplash treatment that have proven helpful in preventing long-term pain, including:

·         Education

·         Reassurance

·         More judicious use of therapy

·         Exercises

The researchers also provided several practical tips for achieving a better outcome in whiplash and accident recovery. Chiropractors know what works and what doesn’t for neck pain; several behaviors won’t work, too. 

Behaviors to Stop RIGHT NOW if You have Whiplash-Related Pain

Stop forcing movement

If moving your neck or head causes significant pain, stop trying to push it so much and seek immediate attention. A neck brace can help you immobilize the neck while you and your chiropractor work towards a physical healing plan.

Stop avoiding the doctor or missing visits

The patient-doctor relationship is a two-way street. Make and keep appointments on a regular schedule. Write down questions before you go and be a productive participant in your health care. If you need support or a new chiropractic provider who will listen to understand, my husband and I can help at Slovin Chiropractic Center.

Stop downplaying symptoms

If anything, exaggerate a little to help your doctor understand your pain. Don’t downplay. Tell us even if you’re experiencing seemingly unrelated symptoms like:

·         Dizzy spells

·         Imbalance

·         Blurry vision

·         Anxiety or depression (new or exacerbated)

Keep an open line of communication with your doctor so you can address issues in a positive, productive way.

Stop pessimistic thoughts

Focusing on the pain makes it more intense. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with symptom amplification, given all the attention to the pain in a whiplash injury case. Judges, jurors, lawyers, and doctors will have you talk about these problems a lot. Support your mental health by looking for the positives and celebrating minor victories.  Work with a chiropractor who will mark them with you. 

Stop doing home programs without chiropractic support

Google and YouTube are magic, but they’re not personalized medicine. You could hurt yourself by performing exercises or taking unknown supplements during recovery. Well-meaning people often give bad advice for back and neck pain on the internet. Instead, talk to a whiplash specialist, like us before starting an exercise routine. Otherwise, you risk making it worse. 

Stop slouching

Bad posture can make the pain much worse and lengthen your time in recovery. It’s tempting to try to move or position your body in a way that relieves pain, but if it’s not mechanically sound, you may end up making it worse.

Stop sitting so much

Sitting is the new smoking and just as unhealthy. Stand up and switch positions frequently to improve circulation. Movement gives your healing hormones and cells an unobstructed path to and from pain areas.

There’s a lot to love in Norwalk—plenty of activities to enjoy. We understand the urgency of recovering from whiplash to get back to doing what you love. Whether it’s jogging on the beach, shredding pow, pushing your endurance, or some other activity, our power team at Slovin Chiropractic Center can help you find your way back to it. 

Sources:

Emergency Medicine Journal: Prevention of chronic pain after whiplash

Mayo Clinic: Whiplash

VeryWell Health: How to Recover from Whiplash Injury