Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Overview of Whiplash

Whiplash is an injury of the neck caused by neck forcefully accelerating and decelerating of the spine forward and backwards. This movement is similar to cracking a whip and causes muscles and joints being overly stretched, torn, and compressed resulting in sprains and strains of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs and joint capsules.  The resulting pain from a whiplash injury can range from very mild and even unnoticeable to extremely severe and debilitating.  Chiropractors frequently see whiplash injuries and have many methods and therapies available to help treat them. 

Common Causes of Whiplash

Far and away the most common cause of whiplash that we see is car accidents.  Car accidents cause the body to very suddenly change direction or stop and this motion causes the “whipping” action of the neck.  That said, whiplash is not only caused by car accidents.   It can in fact be caused by nearly any impact that causes the neck to whip forward and back.  Other common causes include sports impacts such as from snowboarding or skiing, crashing a bicycle or even running into another player on a field.  Some people have even purportedly given themselves whiplash by “headbanging” at rock concerts.  Whiplash can also occur as the result of taking a bad fall and landing poorly such as off a ladder.

Commonly Associated Activities

  • Motor Vehicle Accidents
  • Falls
  • Sports Injuries
  • Impacts
  • Headbanging
  • Any activity that causes sudden acceleration or deceleration

Commonly Associated Conditions and Diseases

  • Bulging Disks
  • Herniated disks
  • Degenerative Joint Disease
  • Nerve Compression/Pinching

Symptoms Associated with Whiplash

Whiplash is frequently accompanied by other symptoms. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, we recommend you see a doctor as soon as possible.   Untreated whiplash can lead to extended periods of discomfort or pain sometimes even lasting years.  The traumatic nature of whiplash often means that injuries that are sustained are typically more severe.  Getting treatment earlier tends to help reduce compensatory behavior that could lead to larger problems down the road.

Due to the violent nature of most whiplash injuries, it is important to assess the need for immediate medical care.  Some whiplash injuries may also involve sever bruising, fracture, concussion, blurred vision, nausea or other symptoms.   If you are experiencing severe symptoms, you should seek emergency medical attention immediately as some symptoms can be life threatening.

Commonly Associated Symptoms

  • Neck, upper, and lower back pain and stiffness
  • Increased pain with movement
  • Headaches
  • Tenderness to touch
  • Trouble sleeping, working, or sitting comfortably
  • Increased anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering
  • Radiating nerve pain
  • Shooting pain in the arms and legs
  • Numbness or tingling in hands, fingers or both
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Muscular spasms
  • Upper back pain

Treatment of Whiplash

Depending on the severity of the injury, whiplash symptoms may be minimal and resolve on their own but often they are more intensive and require examination and treatment. Complicating factors that could likely require examination and treatment would be severe pain, headaches, pain that radiates into the extremity, arthritis, and a prior history of neck/back pain.  Whiplash treatment typically focuses on relieving pain, restoring range of motion, strengthening damaged muscles and regaining the ability to do a persons normal activities of daily living. 

Sometimes whiplash symptoms are so severe that they require a multi-disciplinary approach to management.  In such cases chiropractors typically work with medical doctors to co-treat patients frequently utilizing both prescription medication as well as physical medicine to alleviate and manage pain while working towards recovery.

Common Treatments for Neck Pain

  • Chiropractic Adjusting
  • Massage
  • Muscle Work
  • Cupping
  • Electronic Muscle Stimulation
  • Therapeutic Ultrasound
  • Pin and Stretch
  • Laser Therapy
  • Heat or Ice Therapy