Being a chiropractor, I see a lot of people who have been involved in car crashes. In fact, providing whiplash injury treatment is my specialty. Its’ what I enjoy most, and what I do best (mom wanted me to be a dentist).
When it comes to whiplash injury, there is no shortage of bad information out there. And sometimes that bad information can hinder people from making good decisions when they’re involved in a car crash. With that in mind, this is my first in a series of ten articles aiming to dispel some common myths surrounding whiplash injury. The first, and potentially most dangerous myth? The idea that you should try to relax if you’re going to be involved in a crash.
One of the first questions I ask someone who was involved in car crash is, were you aware you were going to be hit? The answer is often ‘no’, which isn’t surprising since in a lot of whiplash injury victims are struck from behind. But what is surprising is the number of people that follow that up with, ‘at least that’s good because I was relaxed‘. Wait, what!?!? Where does this idea come from? For me it’s a real head-scratcher, but it’s a myth that never loses steam. In fact, I hear it so often from patients that I start to question whether it might be correct (it isn’t).
Your Muscles Are Your Best Defence Against A Whiplash Injury
Your muscles are one of your most important sources of protection against whiplash injury, but when they’re relaxed you lose that protection. During a car crash, tensed muscles help keep your joints from stretching too far (have you ever hyper-extended your knee?), decreasing strain on more delicate structures.
This is extremely important in the neck, given the fact that your head is stuck on the end of it. When your muscles are relaxed, they can’t protect your spine and joints nearly as well. That can mean damage to your joints, discs, nerves, and even your brain. On top of that, muscles heal fairly well. Those other delicate structures, not so much.
Whiplash Injuries Are Like Blindside Hits In Football
Let me give you some real world examples. Since the Seahawks are in full swing, let’s start with a football analogy. If you’re a football fan, you know some of the most dangerous hits for players are blindside hits. When the player doesn’t see the hit coming they’re vulnerable, and have no chance to protect themselves. My favorite online dictionary sums it up nicely: “blindside – to catch unawares, especially with harmful consequences.”
If you’re still not buying the ‘don’t relax’ argument, try this. Close your eyes and imagine that you’ve climbed to the top of a ladder (please don’t actually climb one), and suddenly you lose your balance and fall. As you’re hurtling towards the ground, imagine making your body go totally limp just before you hit. Not a pretty image, is it? Now, this all assumes that you have the choice to relax, but maybe you don’t.
Who’s Really In Control Here? Spoiler Alert: Your Brain!
Have you ever had something thrown at your head when you’re not paying attention (I’m looking at you Frisbee guy)? In an instant your eyes close, you turn your head away and duck, and bring your arms up to protect yourself . You don’t make a conscious decision to do those things, your body just springs into action before you have time to think about it.
This is an example of something called a reflex action. These are powerful reflexes that are beyond your control. They are triggered by your brain to help protect you from injury (like a whiplash injury) and improve your chances of survival. And that’s a good thing!
Whiplash Injury – If You’re Unaware, You’re Unprotected!
When it comes to whiplash injury, there are 2 things I’m fairly certain of. One, people in car crashes who are unaware, and unprepared for the collision, are likely to suffer a worse whiplash injury than those who are aware. Two, if you are aware that you’re going to be hit, you’ll have a difficult time overriding your brain’s desire for self-preservation.
Just be thankful your brain is in control of the the situation, and let your muscles do their thing. You’ll be glad you did. And if you’ve been in a crash and need treatment for a whiplash injury, considering contacting your friendly local chiropractor!