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I had four days snowboarding last week at Cardrona ski-field in New Zealand and had an amazing time. I was lucky however to avoid a serious injury.

I used to ski in my teens with my father, and quite enjoyed it, but thought that the money that was spent was not worth the experience. So last week when I went up to the ski-field with my wife & kids I decided to give snowboarding a go. It always looked like a more fluid and enjoyable experience to me than skiing.

I was expecting 2 days of falling over, pain & bruises but was plesantly surprised when I started to “get it” after only 1 day. By the fourth day I was feeling more competent than I had ever been on skis and was really loving the feeling of carving up the snow, rolling from edge to edge.

Just before lunch on the last day I was coming down to the bottom of the MacDougalls chairlift, and was feeling in control carving at some speed. I chose a line coming into the area at the bottom of the quad lift and checked to ensure it was clear of people. I would have been fine except that the snow in that area was actually mostly ice. I realised this just after it was too late to change my path, tried to carve into the ice and slow down, caught an edge and was slammed into the ice. The side of my head hit the ice and as it rebounded I felt/heard most if not all of the joints on one side of my cervical spine popping.

My first thought was panic that I might have really caused some damage. My second was that it was fairly ironic. I’d been teaching the incidence, eitiology, assessment, clinical reasoning and treatment of whiplash to my students only a week ago.

I paid a lot of attention to my neck over the walk to the car. I investigated how it felt, monitored for heat and/pain, and moved it around gently to assess for any cervical instability. Luckily there were no signs of actual injury. I did notice however that there was a huge muscular charge in the area which could be related to the eastern concept of chi. I also noticed that the muscles in the area were all starting to stiffen-up, presumably bracing themselves against further possible trauma. Thomas Hanna’s description of the trauma reflex (1988) fits very closely with what I felt as the muscles contracted around that area.

I found it interesting that in this case there was no actual trauma. The body experienced a large sensory load, interpreted this as trauma, then acted as if it had actually been injured.

I focussed on relaxing the neck muscles, breathed diaphragmatically to alleviate the sympathetic arousal that I was experiencing as my shock-reaction, and lightly stretched out the muscles of the neck. Within 30 minutes I had a fairly relaxed neck. I’m pretty sure that if I had not intervened in my body’s response that I would have had a very stiff neck that evening.

The neck muscles remained somewhat sensitive over the next couple of days, and were prone to stiffening up. For example when I was recording this experience on a piece of paper in the car I noticed that the load on the sub-occipital muscles was causing tension to develop in these muscles and that this was causing the entire neck to stiffen. However I kept checking in with my neck regularly, and was able to manage the reflexive stiffening to the point where it feels perfectly normal now (2 days later).

The point of this whole experience is that the body-mind reacts to intense sensory stimuli as if it was actual trauma. In this case the experience affected an area which involves a number of joints, and has an extremely rich sensory feed. This is probably the reason that the sensory stimli was so intense and why the body has such a pronounced trauma reflex in cases of whiplash.


Hanna T (1988). Somatics – reawakening the mind’s control of movement, flexibility and health. Da Capo Press. Massachusetts, USA.