If you or anyone you know has had a whiplash injury, you know that it can be life-changing. An accident that happens in an instant may change your health and quality of life for months or years. While most whiplash injuries are the result of car accidents, they can also result from falls and other traumatic injuries.
Whiplash is an injury to the bones, muscles, and tendons, usually in your neck and spine, as the result of any kind of sudden impact that jolts your head sideways or back and forth. Many people don’t feel that they’ve been injured right after an accident and often walk away feeling fine, only to have symptoms develop days or weeks later. Also, scientists have found through test crashes that injuries can occur at any speed, even as slow as five miles an hour. This means that the speed at which a crash has happened isn’t necessarily a factor in the severity of your injury.
Warning: A cadaver is used in this video to illustrate scar tissue formation which some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
The most obvious symptoms of a whiplash injury include pain and inflammation in and around your neck, upper or lower back, and shoulder area. There may also be structural injuries to the bones, ligaments, tendons, and nerves in your neck, spine, and surrounding areas. Beyond pain and inflammation, additional symptoms of whiplash may include vision problems, headaches, insomnia, dizziness, fatigue, and memory or concentration problems.
Treatment for whiplash depends on the severity of your injury. You may be instructed by your doctor to rest, ice the area, or wear a collar that supports your neck. Your doctor may also recommend an over-the-counter medication for pain. If the pain is severe, a stronger pain reliever or muscle relaxant may be prescribed. Your doctor may also recommend steroid injections in the area to calm the inflammation or physical therapy to restore function and range of motion.
Sadly, many whiplash injuries that haven’t been treated, have been misdiagnosed, or treated improperly can become chronic. Many people who are suffering from whiplash pain and debility have turned to acupuncture for relief, and scientists are finding strong evidence that this may be a good idea. Many studies have documented that acupuncture can be an effective strategy for treating both neck and back pain, and there are a number of physiological reasons to support their findings:
- Acupuncture stimulates the release of opioid-like neurochemicals in your brain that help to relieve pain. In addition, scientists have found that acupuncture increases the circulation of endorphins in your brain, which are neurotransmitters that enhance mood, relieve pain, and produce feelings of well-being.
- Acupuncture can reduce inflammation. Research studies have documented that the circulation of inflammation-fighting white blood cells increase significantly during and after an acupuncture treatment.
- Acupuncture boosts circulation, which promotes healing in a couple of ways. It helps to bring new blood and nutrients to the injured area, and flushes out harmful toxins.
- Your range of motion can be dramatically improved through acupuncture. The reduction in pain and inflammation and increase in circulation help to restore movement and speed up healing.
The upshot is that while whiplash can change your life in an instant, there are a number of treatments available to keep your injuries from becoming chronic. Acupuncture is one of those treatments; it can help reduce pain and inflammation, help to restore function, and support the recovery process.
Heather Howe is a registered acupuncturist and practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine at BodaHealth in Vancouver, British Columbia.