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A Cause of Post-Whiplash Headaches

May 25, 2021 -- Posted by : Dr.Harcourt

Headaches are a common complaint among patients with the whiplash-associated disorder (WAD) following a motor vehicle collision, slip, and fall, or sports injury. While in some cases, the cause of WAD-associated headache can be a concussion or traumatic brain injury (TBI), in many instances the underlying cause of WAD-related headaches can be an injury to the neck. How is this possible?

Past research has demonstrated that irritation of the nerves that pass through the top of the cervical spine (C1, C2, and C3) can lead to tension-type or cervicogenic headaches, especially when the C2 nerve is involved. These nerves exit the spine and travel through a thick group of muscles located at the top of the neck/base of the skull or “suboccipital” region.

In a 2019 study, a group of anatomists discovered the close relationship of the greater occipital nerve (C2) and a muscle called the obliquus capitus inferior (OCI) and sought to determine how the C2 might get “pinched” in injuries such as whiplash.

The authors studied 20 cadavers and found three patterns. The nerves either traveled loosely around the muscle (Type I), were incorporated in the dense muscle fascia (Type II), or traveled directly through a myofascial sleeve within the muscle (Type III). Among the 40 C2 nerves (there is a left and right), the research team found seven instances of Type I, thirty-one instances of Type II, and two instances of Type III. Because of the intimate relationship between the OCI and C2 nerve, it’s understandable that during the whiplash process, the stretching of the C2 nerve combined with the contraction of the OCI could set the stage for injury to the nerve.

Doctors of chiropractic frequently find that WAD patients have a great deal of tenderness in the suboccipital region and respond well to upper cervical spinal manipulation and mobilization. When these muscles are more relaxed, neck pain and headaches often improve. Similarly, exercises that focus specifically on this region help the patient self-manage headaches and neck pain, which reduces the need for medications, many of which have negative side effects.

One such exercise is called the cervical brace. This is done by kneeling on all fours and is broken down as follows: 1) “poke” your chin/head straight down toward the floor; 2) in a smooth scooping motion, tuck your chin down (chin-to-chest); 3) and then scoop your head back up to neutral keeping the chin tucked. Repeat in a smooth scooping motion (avoid doing it “steps”). Repeat until your neck feels loose. You may notice some painless popping, crunching sounds as you do the exercise. As modifiers, try it sitting or standing, with or without resistance applied to the forehead.

Studies show neck pain and headaches arising from WAD injuries respond very quickly to chiropractic care. Please consider chiropractic care FIRST in your post-WAD management process!

So, if you have had a car accident in Fort Myers and you type in chiropractor near me or pain management near me, whiplash, or even car accident lawyer you may find Coast Chiropractic Centers with Dr. Timothy Harcourt, me, comes up.  You may wonder, “do I need an MRI scan of my neck or back.” Also, if you feel arm or leg pain it may indicate things are getting worse and may indicate a bulge on the disc or worse yet a herniated disc in your neck and/or back. Shoulder pain is very common with whiplash and could require conservative treatment right away to avoid injections or worse yet, surgery.  A foggy brain may indicate a mild traumatic brain injury.  Persistent or worsening pain intensity and/or frequency necessitates a visit to see a professional.  Call me, Dr. Tim Harcourt, at (239) 278-3344 and we will submit the bills to your auto carrier for payment. 

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