If you've recently been in an accident, and your neck is painful and stiff, you may have whiplash. Here's what you need to know.

A Pain in the Neck and Other Symptoms

An impact with another vehicle in a car crash can put too much strain on your cervical lordosis, which is the natural curve of your neck and spine. Any damage or change to the cervical lordosis can impact other tissues and structures in your neck and spine, and this usually results in stiffness and pain. But damage to the cervical lordosis can also damage delicate nerves and your brain stem, and this can lead to symptoms such as numbness and tingling in your extremities, headaches, dizziness, and nausea.

When someone with a whiplash or neck injury has these types of symptoms, it is crucial that they seek medical attention and imaging. Guidelines recommended by the American College of Radiology Appropriateness Criteria may include radiographic views or magnetic resonance imaging, depending on the symptoms, complaints, and neurologic findings. This is why it is extremely important for you to tell the physician or chiropractor what all of your symptoms are, even if you don't believe the symptoms are related to the whiplash.

Medical Conditions and Incidental Findings

Sometimes, the imaging shows what are called incidental findings, which are undiagnosed conditions that are unintentionally discovered and are unrelated to the reason for the imaging, such as a whiplash injury. However, especially regarding whiplash injuries, some incidental findings may worsen due to the impact of an accident and a change in the cervical lordosis. Incidental findings may affect the treatment for the injury. Here are three types of medical conditions that may be incidental findings on imaging for whiplash injuries.

Chiari malformation. The tonsils of the cerebellum, which is the very bottom of the brain, extend into the spinal-cord opening. This crowds the area, which can compress the brain stem and reduce the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, which is what cushions and protects the brain and spine, especially in impacts such as those involved in car accidents. 

Retroflexed odontoid. The odontoid is a small bone the top vertebra pivots on, and it enables your head to turn from side to side. A retroflexed odontoid is an odontoid that is backward, and it can cause the odontoid to put pressure on the brain stem. The brain stem has nerves that control your entire body. Therefore, a retroflexed odontoid putting pressure on the brain stem can cause various symptoms. 

Craniocervical instability. Whiplash can cause structural changes that can result in craniocervical instability, particularly in people who have a genetic connective tissue disorder such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Craniocervical instability can also affect the brain stem and the cerebellum. 

In a study published by the National Library of Medicine, 93 percent of patients with long-term symptoms from whiplash injuries improved with chiropractic treatment. It's crucial for your chiropractor to know the results of the imaging so he or she can develop an appropriate treatment plan for your whiplash injury that will not impact medical conditions or any incidental findings.

If you do have incidental findings in your imaging or there is reason to believe the brain stem has been compromised, your chiropractor will definitely need to know. Manipulation of the neck could worsen the situation. Fortunately, chiropractors are able to treat whiplash with muscle-relaxation therapy and muscle stimulation. Exercises to improve stabilization and sensorimotor skills can also help treat a whiplash injury. If other medical conditions and incidental findings are discovered, it's a good idea for you to have your medical team speak with your chiropractor before you begin any chiropractic treatments. 

Talk to an office like TLC Chiropractic to make an appointment.