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Learning About Whiplash

Peri Dwyer, DC, DICCP

Once I finished my prerequisites and started chiropractic school, I was surprised to find how minimal the scientific information available on the nature of whiplash injuries, and how to treat them, really was. While it was known that immobilization was the worst thing for a neck sprain, and that manipulation helped, the understanding of the mechanics of the injury was still summed up by Ruth Jackson's then-30-year-old text,The Cervical Spinal Syndrome.

It was not until 1988, when Foreman and Croft Published the First Edition of Whiplash Injuries: the Cervical Acceleration-Deceleration Syndrome that the field of knowledge began to explode.

I have been privileged to take Dr. Arthur Croft's course based on this definitive text all the way through three times. Each time, I have come away with a more in-depth knowledge of the magnitude of the problem and the best ways to treat it.

Here are the things I have learned that you should know:

If your neck hurts, move it.

Whiplash injuries are caused by micro-tears in the muscles and ligaments of the neck. During the first few days to weeks after injury, those muscles and ligaments are laying down cells called fibroblasts, which will determine the orientation of the fibers which support the new muscle and ligament once it's repaired. The body can't know what direction to lay those fibroblasts down in, unless the tissue is kept in motion during that critical period.


Get lots of sleep.

Muscle tissue only regenerates during stages 2 and 3 of sleep. If you are like most Americans, used to "getting by" on a totally-inadequate 5-6 hours a night of sleep, your muscles cannot repair themselves properly.

Support your curve.

We used to think whiplash was caused by the head being hyperextended and hyperflexed. Now, thanks to the miracle of high speed cineradiography, we know that the injury is more complex than that. It is a shearing injury. The spine was meant to flex and extend, but nowhere in nature does the spine encounter a force which causes the head to translate above the torso at high speed while being compressed. A good analogy is a "herringbone" necklace; it is quite flexible when bent back and forth, but if you press the ends together slightly and move your fingers back and forth, it doesn't take much force or movement to completely ruin the structure.

What does this mean in practical terms? The normal lordosis of the neck is sheared out of position into what is known as a "Z" curve. This configuration puts stress on the discs, causing disc bulges and sometimes herniations. Over time, this causes the discs to degenerate, a condition called spondylosis or subluxation degeneration.  Once these painful bone spurs form, the condition is permanent, and all we can do  is focus on relieving the symptoms and making the patient more comfortable.

Good_cervical_curve.jpg  Zcurve_after_whiplash.jpg  Zcurve_30_years_later.jpg

Right to Left: Normal Curve (Lordosis), Z-curve after whiplash, and Z-curve 30 years later with degeneration


That's why it is critically important to spend at least 20 minutes a day lying on your back with a neck roll, "bone" pillow, posture pump, or other cylindrical support under your neck to support the curve.


Of all the treatments for chronic whiplash pain, chiropractic spinal manipulation is the one with the longest track record and the best research supporting its effectiveness. For more information about obtaining care from me and my wonderful, dedicated staff of therapy assistants, licensed massage therapists, and acupuncturists, call us at 850-877-8980, or send us a message from the contact page of this website.

You are not losing your mind.

Research has shown that in a whiplash injury, the brain itself is stretched and sheared. People with whiplash normally have problems with irritability, short-term memory, and divided attention.  Minimizing distraction and getting plenty of sleep can help to speed up the recovery from this mild traumatic brain injury.


Neck Injuries (Whiplash)

A Chiropractor's True Story:

By Dr. Peri Dwyer


In 24 years of treating patients with whiplash, I have learned a lot about the causes of this painful condition and the aftermath it can leave behind in the body and mind of the patient who experiences it.

But the most vivid learning about whiplash has come from first-hand knowledge: When I was 17 years old, I was crossing the street on a green light, when a checker cab hit me going 30 miles an hour. As a gymnast, I was used to rolling with falls, and roll I did... half a block from the crash! There I was, lying on my back in the middle of a crowd of people. The good Samaritans who stopped insisted (rightly) I lie still until an ambulance came. After the EMTs checked me out, I sprang to my feet and insisted I was fine. And I FELT fine...until the next day! I woke up in the worst neck pain of my young life, unable to turn my head, chew, swallow, or do anything except lean back in my dad's recliner and cry. My parents took me to an orthopedist, who took X-rays and told me I had "whiplash", but he didn't have much else to offer, except for a soft collar and the (incorrect) advice that such injuries usually heal on their own.


The neck pain never completely left me. I was unable to do gymnastics after that. And every few months, my neck would spasm in pain for days or weeks, leading to pain pills and the soft collar again. Later, I learned that the soft collar and the immobility it provided were only making the problem worse.

In 1980, When I was in my second year of college at Northwestern University, I had begun my journey into alternative health, becoming a vegetarian, cycling to classes, and learning to be "greener" in many ways. I was on track to a biochemistry major, and being surrounded by all the cut-throat pre-meds at a school like Northwestern was causing me to question our system of medical education and medical treatment. So, when my familiar neck nemesis recurred, I was ready to try something different.

When I got my first chiropractic adjustment, it was like someone turning on a light! This is what I had been needing all along! The immediate relief I felt was like a miracle.

But even more than that, the immediate insight I had was: This is what I was meant to do with my life! I had always had an urge to put my hands on people who were hurting, and they had always told me I had a healing touch. I truly believe God meant me to be a chiropractor, and I have always tried to approach the profession as more than a job; it is a sacred mission.