You’re trying to make that last ball. You’re leaning … and leaning … and WHAP! Your body meets the water like a crash-test dummy and your head wags like that of one of those doggies in a car’s rear window.
Welcome to the woeful world of whiplash, a powerful force that whips your head backward (hyperextension) and forward (hyperflexion), injuring your neck. Some will call this a neck strain, but when it happens to you, you call it, simply, “a pain in the neck.”
Before the crash, the soft tissue (muscles and ligaments) in your neck are really the only thing keeping your head poised on top of your spine. If your cervical spine is aligned and neck anatomy is healthy, your head’s weight is evenly balanced.
Whiplash turns your head’s weight into a powerful force, hurling your neck past its normal range of motion. Studies have shown with “body speeds” at 15 mph, whiplash forces can exceed 10 G’s. A fighter pilot will black out with a force of 6 G’s. This force can injure muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs and other parts of the body. If your head is turned to the side, injury is more severe.
The healing time and treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. A grading scale is used to measure the seriousness of the injury.
A first-degree strain/sprain is a common, minor tweak, typified by a slight twinge or strain of the muscle resulting in mild pain, slight swelling and mild disability with no injury to the joint. It does not disrupt the athlete’s ability to move the neck.
Second-degree is a moderate or partial tear of either the ligament or tendon. This will result in moderate pain, swelling, slight joint instability and abnormal (weak and very painful) movement of the neck.
Third-degree is the worst – a complete rupture or tear of the ligament or tendon. Due to the complete tear, pain may be minimal or severe with extreme abnormal (extremely weak or nonexistent and usually painless) movement and severe joint instability. The healing time varies from two weeks to more than eight months.
If you’ve fallen victim to a neck injury, remember the acronym PRICE. This stands for:
* PRotect the neck from further injury.
* Ice the area for 20 minutes on and 40 minutes off as long as swelling increases.
* Compress and support the injured area.
* Elevate the injury to decrease swelling – don’t lie down. If you notice an increase in symptoms – such as severe headaches, dizziness, memory loss, vertigo, ringing in the ears, changes in vision or nausea – consult your sports doctor immediately.
* To increase performance and lessen the chance of injury, you need to increase nerve flow to the area through muscle warmth and stretching. Do the following stretches and you’ll be on your way to making skiing anything but a pain in the neck. Note: Hold all for 10 seconds and repeat three times before and after each ski session.
Chiropractic sports physician Terry Weyman has seen tweaked necks for the last seven years, working as the chief physician for the pro water-ski tour.