Whiplash is an injury caused by a sudden distortion of the neck. It is most commonly caused by car accidents, especially when a person is hit by another car in the rear. It can also be caused in a number of other way including by falls from bicycles and horses. It is one of the major injuries paid for by traffic accident insurers.
Whilst the most serious cases can involve fracture or observable damage to the spinal cord, most cases are less serious involving some trauma to the soft tissue, which can be expected to recover in the course of a few weeks. However in some such cases even when the soft tissue injury has recovered there is no recovery from the pain, and in some cases a gradual increase in the symptoms which besides the neck pain can include headaches, nerve pain and tingling in the arms and legs, and pain in the shoulders and back.
The reason for the sometimes intractable symptoms following whiplash injury which often appear out of all proportion to the actual tissue injury is that the nervous system has been deeply shocked and the whole muscular system has organized itself into a stress pattern which if not let go of, in itself then creates an underlying cause for the pain.
Because the Alexander technique works predominately with changing dysfunctional patterns of posture and movement by changing the patterning at the brain level, it can frequently create a seemingly miraculous reduction in symptoms. And after a number of lessons the whiplash sufferer begins to learn the skills to work on himself . Therapies that work on the structural level of muscles and joints are frequently less than effective once that acute stage of the whiplash injury is over.Strengthening or stretching the muscles of the neck has no impact on a shocked nervous system.
Jane came to me for Alexander lessons five years after having suffered a whiplash injury in a car crash. She had physiotherapy after the accident but the neck pain never completely disappeared, and the pains gradually got worse and then crept down her back, until she was getting pain in the upper and lower back as well as nerve pains in her right arm, particularly when she did any computer work. It was becoming impossible to do a full day’s work due to the pain. As she sat in the chair and described her symptoms her neck was contracted, shoulders pulled up and arms squeezed into the side of her body in a way that interfered with her breathing. Indeed lack of breath and the need to force her breath in from time to time was another symptom she described.
A common aftereffect of whiplash is that the shock of the accident remains patterned into the body – and what I was observing with Jane was a pattern of contraction and shock which was in all probability a result of the accident.
In the first lesson we began by helping her to free the contraction through her neck and then to begin to ease the shoulders and arms, and then through into her back and legs. This was done by very gentle manual guidance getting her to begin to let go of the totally unconscious muscular contractions which had begun to feel completely normal to her. At the end of that first lesson there was a considerable reduction in the pain in her neck and back, and I felt confident that in the course of a few lessons and with Jane continuing the work outside of the formal lessons, that she would make considerable progress with a relatively short series of lessons, and this indeed proved to be the case.