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Massage Aha!

Professional therapeutic massage therapy in Kansas City, MO by Aaron Harris, BCTMB

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Whiplash and Massage


Whiplash is a term used to describe a collection of injuries that occur with rapid acceleration and deceleration of the cervical spine. Many clients seek massage as part of a holistic treatment plan for whiplash.

The mechanics of whiplash
The mechanism of injury to the neck commonly known as whiplash.

What Exactly is Whiplash?

Technically, CAD (cervical acceleration-deceleration), or whiplash, describes many different injuries that occur when the head whips rapidly backward and then forward. This injury is very common in auto accidents.

The injuries can include:

  • sprained ligaments
  • strained muscles
  • cartilage and joint capsule damage
  • vertebral fracture
  • disc rupture
  • spinal cord damage

More than 1 million cases of whiplash due to car accidents are reported every year. It is estimated that about 16 Million people in the US have had whiplash.

The direction of travel, speed, seatbelt use, and direction of impact can all factor into the individual injuries that occur in whiplash cases.

The muscles most often involved include: sternocleidomastoid, scalenes, splenius cervicis, splenius capitis, and levator scapulae. Supportive ligaments of the shoulder and cervical spine may also suffer trauma.

Levator Scapulae
The levator scapulae elevates the scapula and rotates the shoulder downward. It rotates the neck to the same side and assists extension.
Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)
The sternocleidomastoid (SCM) by itself rotates the face to the opposite side and lifts it towards the ceiling. Paired with the opposite side the muscles flex the head and neck.
Splenius Capitis
The splenius capitis extends the head and assists sidebending and rotation.
Splenius Cervicis
The splenius cervicis muscle extends the cervical spine, and performs rotation and lateral flexion to the same side.

Signs and Symptoms of Whiplash

  • Head and neck pain
    • may radiate into the trunk or arms
    • Cervical vertebrae out of alignment
  • Loss of range of motion
    • inability to flex or extend the neck
    • inability to turn head from side to side
  • Spasms
    • The small muscles that support your cervical vertebrae, as well as the larger muscles responsible for movement may try to “splint” the injury by locking down tight.
  • Headaches
    • can be caused by trigger points in the neck
    • Temporal-Mandibular-Jaw (TMJ) pain
    • cranial bones out of alignment
  • Trigger Points
  • Neurological symptoms (may be a sign of a concussion)
    • dizziness
    • blurred vision
    • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)

Diagnosis and Treatment of Whiplash

Any traumatic injury should first and foremost be examined and diagnosed by a physician.

Your doctor will evaluate the extent of your injuries using x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans.

Your doctor may recommend the use of a stiff neck collar to immobilize your neck and allow healing and reduce muscle spasms. You may also be prescribed muscle relaxers and painkillers.

Massage Therapy for Whiplash

After proper diagnosis and determination that no serious disorder (disc rupture, fractures, etc) has occurred, chiropractic manipulation and massage therapy may be enough to heal the pain of whiplash. Massage can yield good results by preventing or releasing muscle spasms.

Massage is also good for increasing blood flow to, and waste product removal from, the surrounding soft tissues, speeding up the healing process. A practiced massage therapist can treat any adhesions, reduce scar tissue, and increase your range of motion.

All massage modalities can be used once whiplash reaches the subacute stage.

A treatment plan that involves regular visits with a chiropractor and massage therapy sessions with me greatly increases the speed at which you will recover from whiplash. Most insurance policies will cover these treatments. If you seek the services of a personal injury attorney, they will very likely recommend that you seek this type of treatment plan.

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