In previous posts on our blog, I wrote about the 1-5 grades of whiplash injuries. Grade 1 is a minor muscle strain, Grade 5 is a severe injury (including fractures, disc herniations, and catastrophic ligament instability) requiring surgery. There are different kinds of degenerative processes/arthritis that can arise from damage to the discs, joints, and ligaments. Remember, only about half of those injured in car crashes fully recover, others are left with chronic pain and disability.
Damage to the intervertebral discs, such as a disc bulge or herniation, will lead to accelerated degenerative changes in the discs, becoming dried out and loosing height. This can cause localized pain, radiating pain, and stenosis (decreasing size of the hole where the spinal nerves exit) causing nerve encroachment and radiating nerve pain. This is called degenerative disc disease (DDD).
Damage to the facet and uncinate joints in the neck can cause permanent cartilage damage and accelerated joint degeneration, leading to localized pain and radiating pain, often into the head causing headaches, and into the upper back and arms. This is called degenerative joint disease (DJD).
Damage to the cervical ligaments can lead to instability of the cervical spine and accelerated degenerative changes to the discs and joints of the spine, causing both DDD and DJD. The ligaments of the cervical spine are tight all the time, keeping the vertebra and joints in normal alignment. In whiplash injuries, grade 3 and higher, the ligaments can over stretch too far. They will heal, but in a more scar tissue like formation, and are no longer tight, causing instability of the spine. Sub catastrophic instability is less than 3.5 mm excessive motion between the vertebra with flexion/extension. This excessive motion leads to wearing out of the joints and discs. Often, this is the recurring stabbing neck pain people experience. The Digital Motion X-ray we have in our office is designed to detect this aberrant motion and direct specific manipulative therapy to help to restore better motion.
Accurate diagnosis leads to proper treatment. This is why we tout “Research Based Diagnosis and Treatment”. If you or someone you know is suffering whiplash, give us a call today!