Although awareness around brain injury is growing, few people realize whiplash has been shown in neurological exams to be capable of causing damage to the brain and inner ear in the same way a concussion can.
Whiplash takes its name from the neck moving in a forceful, back-and-forth manner like the crack of a whip. Whiplash is most commonly associated with car accidents, particularly being hit from behind. However, it can also occur during sports, falls, blows to the head, or other accidents.
Whiplash can cause concussion-like injury
Studies show the force of the brain shaking back and forth in a whiplash incident can injure the brain and the vestibular system, or inner ear, in the same way a concussion can.
This is a less common occurrence than the more usual cervical strain/sprain of most cases of whiplash, caused by the stretching and tearing of the neck’s muscles and ligaments.
When whiplash damages the vestibular system, it’s common for people to experience dizziness; loss of balance; nausea in response to motion; tingling, prickling, and numbness in the limbs; low back pain; headache; and sleep disturbances.
This occurs because of damage caused directly to the semicircular canals that make up the inner ear, or because of a shearing force affecting the nerves in the brainstem that travel to the inner ear.
When damage occurs to the inner ear itself, it’s classified as a peripheral vestibular order. If the nerves connecting the vestibular system to the brainstem are affected, then it’s a central vestibular disorder.
Using functional neurology to address damage to the vestibular system, or inner ear, from whiplash
The issue of whether damage occurs to the peripheral vestibular system or the central vestibular system is often ignored because it doesn’t change treatment in the conventional health care model.
However, in functional neurology this distinction is very important and profoundly affects the course of treatment.
When the central vestibular system is injured, functional neurology rehabilitation exercises reprogram the pathways between the inner ear and the rest of the brain. They accomplish this by working on involuntary movements associated with the inner ear and the eyes. This improves communication between the inner ear and the rest of the brain, thus restoring or improving function.
The vestibular system works with our vision and our brain’s regulation of where the body is in space in order to maintain equilibrium. Gently exercising a compromised equilibrium system can help it regain normal function. A rehabilitation exercise may include activating the visual center in combination with motion, such as spinning slowly in a chair while watching stripes move in a particular direction.
For the patient, exercising this system back to health this means relief from nauseating dizzy spells and other symptoms that have been happening since the whiplash injury occurred.
This is a broad and simple overview of why you may feel dizzy after whiplash and how functional neurology can help identify why and strategize a plan to help you feel and function better.