Whiplash is a neck injury due to forceful, rapid back-and-forth movement of the neck. This can be in a forward and backward motion, side to side movement or at an angle.
Whiplash is commonly caused by rear-end car accidents, but whiplash can also result from sports accidents, physical abuse and other types of traumas, such as a fall. Whiplash may be called a neck sprain or strain, but these terms also include other types of neck injuries.
A person who has suffered a whiplash may feel symptoms lessen after a few weeks, but chronic problems can last for years unless the proper treatment is taken soon after the injury.
Signs and symptoms of whiplash usually develop within days of the injury, and may include:
Some people also have:
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you have any neck pain or other whiplash symptoms after a car accident, sports injury or other traumatic injury. It’s important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis and to rule out broken bones or other damage that can cause or worsen symptoms. Unfortunately, even low speed impacts can alter the curve of a patient’s neck, causing a reversed curve and make the spinal cord stretch, leading to numbness, pain, or reduced function of the body.
A whiplash injury may result from:
Most people who have whiplash feel better within a few weeks and don’t seem to have any lasting effects from the injury. However, some people continue to have pain for several months or years after the injury occurred.
It is difficult to predict how each person with whiplash may recover. In general, you may be more likely to have chronic pain if your first symptoms were intense, started rapidly and included:
The following risk factors have been linked to a worse outcome:
Your doctor will ask questions about the event and your symptoms. You also may be asked questions that help your doctor understand how severe your symptoms are and how often they occur. Your doctor will also want to know how well you can perform normal everyday tasks.
During the exam your doctor will need to touch and move your head, neck and arms. You will be asked to move and perform simple tasks so that your doctor can check the:
A whiplash injury isn’t apparent on imaging tests. But your doctor will likely order one or more imaging tests to rule out other conditions that could be making your neck pain worse. Imaging tests include:
Preparing for your appointment
If you’ve been in a car accident, you might receive care on the scene or in an emergency room. However, a whiplash injury may not cause symptoms immediately. If you have neck pain and other symptoms after an injury, see your doctor, an urgent care center, or a chiropractor as soon as possible.
Be prepared to describe in detail the event that may have caused your symptoms and to answer the following questions.
The goals of whiplash treatment are to:
Soft foam cervical collars were once commonly used for whiplash injuries to hold the neck and head still. However, studies have shown that keeping the neck still for long periods of time can decrease muscle strength and interfere with recovery.
Your treatment plan will depend on the extent of your whiplash injury.
After a thorough examination and imaging, a Chiropractor may be able to treat whiplash with conservative adjustments. These techniques can be with adjusting tools or by hand, correcting the misalignments of the neck and upper back. By realigning the spine, the pressure will decrease in the joints and will lessen compression of the spinal nerves. This decrease in pressure will allow the muscles of the neck to relax and allow the correct alignment of the neck to be re-established. Chiropractors are an important part of a medical team, and work with other medical doctors. Should you find yourself seeking care for neck pain, we would be happy to evaluate you at our clinic, N8 Family Chiropractic.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2684148/ Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. 2008 Mar; 1(1): 65–68. Published online 2007 Nov 6. Whiplash: diagnosis, treatment, and associated injuries
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9383854/ Spine (Phila Pa 1976)1997 Nov 1;22(21):2489-94. Whiplash produces an S-shaped curvature of the neck with hyperextension at lower levels
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27836071/ Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2016 Oct;39(8):523-564.e27. The Treatment of Neck Pain-Associated Disorders and Whiplash-Associated Disorders: A Clinical Practice Guideline
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26707074/ Spine Journal 2016 Dec;16(12):1598-1630. Are manual therapies, passive physical modalities, or acupuncture effective for the management of patients with whiplash-associated disorders or neck pain and associated disorders? An update of the Bone and Joint Decade Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders by the OPTIMa collaboration
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31870638/ Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics 2019 Nov;42(9):635-650. Best-Practice Recommendations for Chiropractic Management of Patients with Neck Pain