As a chiropractor, I have an opinion on this one. Whiplash injuries are common & so is the patient whose chronic neck pain has been present “since that accident.”
Whiplash occurs when the head gets thrown back and forth as a result of a sudden change in momentum of the head relative to the neck, resulting in strains affecting the bones, discs, muscles, nerves, or tendons of the neck.
We used to call them hyperflexion / hyperextension injuries, but more careful evaluation showed that the neck does not always go beyond it’s normal range of motion. Rather, small regions of the cervical spine undergo too much flexion and too much extension. Consider an “S” shaped spring getting crunched down from the top–there will be areas of the spring that get scrunched and areas that get stretched. This is closer to what we understand happens during a whiplash type of injury.
Because of this type of injury, studies have identified multiple problems with patients who suffer this type of injury. Fat deposits in the muscles. Change in the muscular coordination of the neck. Jaw pain. Chronic pain. All are potential outcomes following a whiplash type injury.
This particular study continues to paint a depressing picture for those who have had this type of injury. Researchers found changes in those who are suffering from chronic whiplash pain during exercise.
Normally, exercise stimulates the release of built in pain relievers (endogenous). Everyone’s heard of the experience known as “runner’s high” when these opioid-like compounds are released by the body. However, in the chronic whiplash patients, they did not experience the pain reduction associated with exercise like the normal patients did. They were more likely to have an increase in pain after they exercise rather than improvement.
So what is the solution? I’ve already mentioned my bias. I can tell you, from personal experience over 15 years of practice, that when patients get in to our office for treatment within hours of an accident, they never seem to get to the severe levels of pain that we see when compared to patients who come in days or weeks after the injury.
Regardless of where you go for treatment, make sure that all of the potentially injured tissues (ligaments, tendons, fascia, joints, etc..) are treated. Just exercising or just adjusting or just medications will likely not fully address the nature of the tissue damage that occurs in a whiplash type of injury. Only treatments that encompass both the joints (adjusting) and the soft tissues that are injured is likely to be successful at preventing your injury from becoming chronic.
If you have had a whiplash injury in the past, what did you do to fully recover? Or do you still deal with chronic pain?