Whiplash and Balance
As whiplash injuries are studied more and more, the many health problems that can develop as a result of them are becoming more apparent. Neck sprains are not simple problems like a sprained ankle because the neck is involved in a lot of important duties, not just movement. One such function of the neck is to keep you upright and in balance. Balance is complex and involves coordination between sensations in your inner ear, your eye movements and neurological signaling from your neck, spine and legs. The neck nerves are especially important in this regard. The brain receives inputs from the ears, the eyes, and neck, and determines from these three areas where you are in space, where’ve you been, and where you are going. If any of these areas is affected, then balance is disturbed.
You may stumble around more, not really have a sense of where your feet are; you may trip more and in severe cases, you may develop vertigo (a spinning sensation). These symptoms can have a devastating effect on your quality of life, even resulting in nausea.
A recent study from Europe (funded by an insurance company) (Coll Antropol 2007;31:823) looked at how we sense position of the head following whiplash. The researchers compared whiplash-injured patients to normal healthy people in their ability to sense the position of their head; whether they were rotated or tilted in some way. The results were alarming. Patients with cervical spine injury showed significant impairment of proprioception (sense of position)
Chiropractic care involves trying to normalize joint function of the neck. Adjustments are designed to restore normal mobility and improve the posture of the neck so that it is more balanced. Some patients will need specific exercises, even balance therapy, to help improve their sense of position and keep them from feeling dizzy.
So if you’ve wondered about feeling unsteady, or are not really sure on your feet, this could be a consequence of a whiplash injury. Because both the brain and neck can be injured in whiplash, the symptoms can be quite substantial. Just letting it go and hoping it will go away can create an even longer lasting problem. And bed rest or simply not moving the neck are not good options either, because your neck needs to move to properly heal. Some neck collars can even create more of a problem leading to muscle weakness. They are right for some patients, but not for everyone. Chiropractors specialize in a comprehensive rehabilitation program to help you get past the whiplash injury, and back to the normal quality of life you enjoyed before the trauma.