How does the body fix whiplash-related injuries?

Auto accidents happen very fast - typically the impact lasts less than a second - and you can suffer a multitude of injuries.  Most common is whiplash.  Whiplash injuries occur from the rapid jerking of your body inside the car, affect the muscles and ligaments of the spine, and are repaired by scar tissue.

It is important to understand the difference between muscle and ligament tissues.  Muscles attach one bone to another and their purpose is to pull one bone toward another bone.  Ligaments also attach one bone to another, but their purpose is to hold bones in place while muscles pull at them to create movement.  These two tissues are essential to allowing the normal movements of your body.

Muscle and ligament tissues are similar in structure.  They are made of a large number of organized fibers that have "grain".  Imagine you are holding a handful of straws that are neatly organized side by side, all of the straws pointing the same direction.  Muscle and ligament fibers also exhibit similar organization.

Scar tissue forms to fix the gaps where the fibers have torn in a whiplash injury.  The problem is that scar tissue is unorganized when it forms and poorly matches the grain of the muscles and ligaments it is meant to repair.  Scar tissue’s structure is similar to the result of taking a handful of matches and throwing them on the floor, the matches pointing in all directions. 

Scar tissue also shrinks over time.  A good example is the healing of a cut that required stitches.  When the wound is healed, the doctor removes the stitches and the scar is fairly smooth - the tissue is not raised up.  If you look at that same cut after a year, you may notice that it has formed a raised scar.  The tissue has risen because the scar tissue underneath has matured and shrunk in on itself.

Similarly, scar tissue when it shrinks can cause misalignments in the body.  Think about one vertebra in your back and the muscles that attach to it.  The muscles on the right and left side are mirror images.  Their equal size and strength allow equal tension on both sides of the bone which holds it in its normal position.  If the muscles to one side are injured, scar tissue forms on that side and you end up with a vertebra that is pulled out of position because there is greater tension on one side than on the other.  This uneven tension and misalignment cause inflammation and increased neck pain, back pain, headaches, and other pain symptoms.  If the misalignment is bad enough, it may cause pressure on the nerves exiting your spine resulting in nerve problems like numbness, sciatica, and burning or shooting pain into the arms or legs.  When these misalignments are left untreated, the continued irritation and stress over a long period may also cause the body to reinforce or deform the bones that form the joint over time, this reinforcement or deformation of the bone is commonly known as arthritis.

How do you prevent all this?  Organize the scar tissue as it forms.  Imagine the strands of yarn in a knit blanket.  The strands crisscross one another and travel in opposite directions.  If you stretch the blanket between your hands, the strands straighten out, right?  Scar tissue behaves in a similar fashion.

When your Fayetteville chiropractor performs an adjustment to an area where there is scar tissue, the scar tissue is stretched and smoothed out to better match the structure of the tissue it is repairing, whether it is muscle or ligament.  You will also feel less tension and pain in the area.  As the scar tissue shrinks back again, you will feel the pain and stiffness return, which is why chiropractic should be performed on a regular basis.  Typically, with each adjustment, the amount of time you feel less pain, less stiffness, and more relaxed will expand until you are not often experiencing these symptoms between visits.

Scar tissue is easiest to organize when it is new, so visit your chiropractor as soon as possible after an accident or injury.  Have you been involved in a recent car wreck?  Give a call to your Fayetteville chiropractor today and see if chiropractic can help you get your health back!

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