Research has shown that whiplash injuries as a result of car accidents occur even with low speeds of around 15 km per hour. In fact more than half of all motor vehicle accidents have some degree of whiplash injury and up to 40 percent of people with a whiplash injury can still be suffering symptoms and discomfort more than 3 years later. Taller people and the elderly are more likely to suffer a whiplash as well as drivers in smaller cars. Western medicine is not decided on which muscles are affected.
From an anatomical perspective, there is still no consensus of what the exact injury mechanism actually is. A 2012 research study suggested that the trapezius muscle may become damaged through eccentric muscle contraction.
The main symptoms associated with a whiplash are pain, stiffness and tenderness, decreased range of movement, muscle weakness and decreased tendon reflexes.
Standardised treatment includes manipulation, mobilizations, exercises, massage and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs NSAIDs. Some patients are somewhat hesitant and fearful to have neck manipulations and physiotherapy exercises also can aggravate. NSAIDs have dangerous side effects.
Researchers in 2004 found that using just two acupuncture points in the neck had a high percentage of positive results and led them to the conclusion to advocate acupuncture in whiplash injuries.
More recently, another study at the University of Sydney also found successful positive outcomes for whiplash when using electro-acupuncture.
The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) in New Zealand is a government owned insurance company that has been covering whiplash injuries with acupuncturists who are members of the New Zealand Register of Acupuncturists Inc for over 20 years.
A whiplash type trauma injury is also commonly seen in kung fu sparring and sports injuries and acupuncture physicians have been treating this injury for hundreds of years.
Mr Alan Jansson, an acupuncturist who practices on the Gold Coast in Australia, specializes in traditional Japanese acupuncture sees his fair share of Karate students who have had whiplash. Alan says “In Karate sparring, the neck is vulnerable in an impact punch and also in a throw. The funny thing is that you would expect more of these neck injuries in older karate students but I actually see more younger people. Maybe it is because the younger ones are too confident and neglect their defense“. Alan Jansson has lectured in many parts of the world including the USA, Portugal and the Czech republic. He will be returning to New Zealand to deliver a seminar in Auckland in February 2014, more than ten years since his last visit.
Acupuncture is a gentle and passive type of therapy when treating whiplash which reassures patients as often the neck can feel very vulnerable after a car accident.
Many cases of whiplash can also become complicated with a shoulder problem. This is because a whiplash injury can involve the supraspinatous muscle which can then complicate the issue with a shoulder impingement.