Northeast Wisconsin
  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • January 2014
Written by  Bobbi del Plaine, LMT, CST, CVMRT

Are whiplash and PTSD related?

After several years as a craniosacral therapist, I noticed that some of my clients who had suffered from whiplash injuries continued to have symptoms long after the incident. Some of these symptoms included continuing neck pain, hand stiffness and headaches. These clients also complained of depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, vertigo and dizziness. Some even complained of difficulties with memory and concentration. I have talked with other practitioners and they, too, had similar experience with their clients.

In a recent seminar, neurologist and author Dr. Robert Scaer spoke about whiplash syndrome, describing these same symptoms and the reasons that for some, symptoms continue to persist years after the incident. Dr. Scaer explained that in some cases, during a whiplash injury, the person involved dissociates and a kindling effect can occur. As he put it, “‘kindling’ is a name given to the phenomenon of self-perpetuating neural circuits.” This can be understood as a domino effect. Information about the incident or accident “freezes” in the body/brain and gets stuck. The biological systems in the body continue to trigger or misfire over and over, conditioning a similar response as though the incident were still occurring. This reasoning suggests that a variety of chronic issues represent late somatic expressions of traumatic stress.

Brain and body response to danger

“The term ‘fight or flight’ describes a mechanism in the body that enables humans and animals to mobilize a lot of energy rapidly in order to cope with threats to survival.”1 This response is automatic and is a biological reflex that helps us survive. We have no choice about it. We either fight, flee or freeze as a reaction to an overwhelming event. Our bodies take care of us and brace us before a perceived threat is even in our conscious awareness. A person experiences kindling as a result of a dysfunctional biochemical process. Some of the bracing behaviors our bodies experienced during the initial incident become “stuck.” This process is driven by internal cues resulting from unresolved procedural memory of threat. It is enhanced by biological systems inherent to both the original response to threat, and to subsequent freeze/dissociation.2

Effect treatments

Many of us are not “in our bodies.” We have been trained to stay in our heads! More and more, people are learning the benefits of body awareness, biofeedback, heart rate variability, somatic experiencing and mind/body traditions. Craniosacral therapy, Brainspotting and HeartMath are all approaches with a mind/body focus that use the relaxation response to support healing and well-being. Craniosacral therapy is a popular method for safely releasing whiplash symptoms.

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy is a gentle, hands-on or light touch therapy addressing the movement of cerebrospinal fluid, which can be restricted by trauma. This restriction occurs when the body experiences falls, accidents, blocked emotional issues and general nervous tension within the body. The practitioner works with the skull and its cranial sutures, the spine, diaphragms and fascia to release restrictions of nerve passages, easing the flow of cerebrospinal fluid through the brain and spinal cord to improve the functioning of the central nervous system. This can enhance the body’s own self-healing and self-regulating capabilities. I became a craniosacral practitioner to heal myself and now I do it to support the healing of others. 


Bobbi del Plaine, LMT, CST, CVMRT, is a licensed massage therapist who specializes in craniosacral therapy and Reconnective Healing®. She works at Get Connected Counseling, LLC in Appleton, a mental health private practice offering educational and counseling services to teens, adults, couples and families. Get Connected Counseling offers a different experience in counseling than clients have had before, with a focus on transformational healing of mind, body and spirit. For more information, visit http://getconnectedcounseling.com.

References: http://cmhc.utexas.edu/stressrecess/Level_One/fof.html.

http://traumahealing.com/somatic-experiencing/whiplashsyndrome.

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