It’s bad enough having a muppet wallop into the back of your freshly valeted car as you are parked at the lights, without having to deal with the neck pain that inevitably remains as a result. If the donut was only travelling a slow speed you may get away with a short term neck pain that resolves fairly quickly, but if they happened to be travelling super fast, many years of recurrent neck pain and headaches may ensue.
Sylvia was one such patient of mine, who presented having suffered 20 years of post-whiplash neck pain. I was fresh out of uni and had very little experience of treating this condition. I was extremely perplexed at how anyone could suffer for 20 years after a whiplash, but very quickly discovered that this is the norm, or at least, very common.
Whiplash quickly became my most hated of conditions to treat – because it never got permenantly better. However many times I stretched the muscles and released the joints, the neck would return to its locked, restricted, weak, painfull state. It defied all normal expected tissue responses. It was like whiplash injured tissues had a mind of their own that simply refused to be re-moulded and corrected.
Any other form of neck pain would respond and relax and resolve, except whiplash. I didn’t realize that I was competitive until I was faced with this condition. I refused to accept that it couldn’t be treated to complete resolution.Why wouldn’t the tissues let go? Tissues don’t think, they respond and react to forces placed on them, so what forces were being placed on the neck that were inhibiting the muscles being able to relax?
As an undergraduate we were given 6 weeks training in a specialization of osteopathy called “Cranial Osteopathy”. It was put to us that the body is not just bones and joints and muscles that we can see and touch, but that there is also a complete system of connective tissues inside the body called fascia and membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord, that also become tight and tense when the body is put under strain. It was suggested that when the body receives an impact, such as when falling out of a tree, or a punch, falling off a horse, these internal tissues absorb the impact, and can also lock up in response. We are fully accepting of how muscles absorb stress and strain and become tight in response…..but what about these internal tissues. I had no time for it whatsoever. I saw it as ‘that class taught by people making stuff up as a test to see if we were really paying attention”. I attended the 6 lectures and learned what I was taught but quickly dropped it into my ‘waste of time’ box.
However, as I battled with Sylvia’s neck, and its completely unresponsive nature, one day, out of sheer desparation, I decided to try a few of the ‘cranial’ techniques that I had been taught … I quite literally had nothing to lose, and was close to discharging Sylvia as my very first ‘failure’. Sylvia returned the following week 50% improved. My jaw hit the floor. Surely not. I treated her again, with these ‘experimental’ cranial osteopathic techniques…..and she bounced in the following week showing 75% improvement.
I thought a lot about why the tissues in her neck were starting to respond, and spoke with other osteopaths that practiced Cranial techniques. It was explained that when the body receives a 70MPH impact, the body’s main goal is to protect the brain. It is postulated that the membrane around the brain & spinal cord (the dural sheath) contracts as a protective response to the impact. The second postulation is that as the neck is flicked back into extension, and the muscles, joints and tendons are all put through an extreme unexpected stretch (that results in their consequent contraction that we battle to release), the internal fascia and connective tissues also receive this impact.
It seems that perhaps this system of tissues inside the body could be holding the neck from the inside, stopping the muscles and joints on the outside from releasing. Whatever the postulations, proven or unproven, correct or incorrect, the cranial techniques adjusted the body in such a way that Sylvias neck muscles relaxed and remained relaxed. The exercise program that I had given Sylvia weeks before to re-balance her neck muscles and create a strong neck with core stability now started to take effect and hold the changes and corrections. It was as if the body had been held in a sort of ‘supsended animation’ – as if the brain didn’t know that the danger had passed and it was safe to relax the membranes and let go.
I have since treated dozens of cases of whiplash, all with the same history – massages work for a short period, acupuncture works for a short period, osteopathy works for a short period, exercises work for a short period, but everything always returns to the way it was. Once the impact strain was removed, everything started to hold and all treatments forms started to work and take effect. I now treat whiplash immediately with cranial osteopathy to remove the impact strain through the neck, then give a muscle re-balancing program and pack people on their way – the body re-set, alive and the body’s own self-corrective mechanisms free to function as they should.