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Whiplash is a type of injury that occurs when the body is shoved forward suddenly and forcefully.  The head lags behind for a fraction of a second and then is pulled forward to catch up with the body.  This causes damage due to over stretching of the discs, ligaments, tendons and muscles especially in the neck, but the upper back and low back can be damaged too.  Due to a lack of direct blood supply, discs, ligaments and tendons heal very slowly and are easily reinjured. 

Proper treatment is involved, but will usually prevent permanent pain, weakness and instability by helping the injured tissues to heal as rapidly and completely as possible. There are at least 5 different aspects to optimal treatment.  It is important to remember that the goal of treatment is not the elimination of pain, but to heal the injured tissues.  Addictive drugs such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine and methadone can eliminate pain but do nothing to correct the cause of the pain.

  1.  Immediate pain control.  Most often done with NSAID’s such as ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).  Natural anti-inflammatories such as Zymain and bromelain are also often very helpful and do not stress the kidneys, stomach or liver.  Pain control is especially important if pain is preventing good quality sleep.  Mild pain during the day is actually a good thing as your body is telling you what is acceptable to do and what is not acceptable.  Weaning off of anti-inflammatory’s as quickly as possible is best for long term healing.

  2. Obey your pain and use good posture once able.  If it hurts to keep your neck straight then keep it in the most painless position.  The body will tell you what positions are pinching injured tissues.  As healing takes place you will be able to achieve a more optimal body position which is upright with the head back so that the ears are over the shoulders.  In other words use good posture as soon as it is no longer painful to do so.  In my opinion poor posture is the primary reason for persistent pain after whiplash.

  3. Healthy diet and lifestyle.  Inflammation can come from injury but also from junk food.  Sugar, trans fats, hydrogenated fats, excessive amounts of grains all increase inflammation.  This inflammation on top of the inflammation from the whiplash injury can make the pain much worse.  Lack of water and lack of sleep contribute to tight muscles and slower healing.

  4. Spinal adjustment/alignment.  Damaged ligaments, and muscles cannot maintain ideal joint alignment so spinal adjustments are usually necessary for rapid and complete recovery.

  5. Additional therapies.  Even if all the above is done, pain may persist if injuries are severe.  In these cases additional therapies such as cold laser, traction, trigger point therapy, massage and others may be needed for optimal healing.

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