Whiplash and Your Sense of Position & Balance

Although whiplash injuries are quite common, research is only beginning to describe the diverse symptoms that can develop when the neck has been traumatized. Even minor whiplash such as occurs from sports, can have a significant impact on the delicate structures of the neck.

Position sense or balance is how we keep upright and move through space. When it is disturbed we may feel unsettled, dizzy or even get nauseous. Many studies have shown that when the spine is injured, the person’s balance can be affected. How is this so? Balance is maintained by a complex interaction between your inner ear, your eyes, and the nerves in your neck (Sports Med 2008;38:101,Armstrong. et al.). When the neck is injured you may use your eyes more to make up any position sense or balance deficits. There are limits to this strategy and as a result dizziness is a big problem in society. About 1/3 of older persons suffer from dizziness, and whiplash or other neck traumas can be a significant factor.

A good test to see if your balance is impaired is as follows: Can you stand on one leg for fifteen seconds? Is it equally easy to do this on the other leg or is one side easier to maintain your balance. Can you stand on one leg with your eyes closed? Obviously you should try this very carefully. You may want to do this with a friend nearby so you do not fall. Do you immediately lean and have to put your other foot down? If you cannot stay upright it may be sign that position sense has been affected by a spinal problem.

Chiropractic care can improve the posture and mobility of the neck. This may have an impact on balance because joint dysfunction in the neck can send altered nerve signals to brain centers that coordinate position with your eyes and ears. Although there is limited research in this area, most doctors and therapists recognize the importance of introducing movements when a balance problem is coming from a neck injury. It’s important to introduce limited movements early following a trauma as long as additional pain is not being provoked.