Whiplash Injury FAQ

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries associated with automobile accidents, yet few people understand what whiplash is and what causes it. We created this whiplash injury FAQ page to answer the most common questions we receive about whiplash, including what whiplash is and how to recognize the symptoms. Whiplash Faq

Whiplash is a relatively common neck injury. It occurs when sudden, violent movement causes your neck to move back and forth rapidly, like a whip cracking (hence the name, whiplash).

Although whiplash most often occurs as the result of a rear-end collision, the condition may also be caused by a sport injury, fall, physical abuse, or other acute trauma. With proper treatment, whiplash typically resolves in one to three months. Without treatment, chronic neck pain may result.

The most common symptom of whiplash is neck pain and stiffness. Other common signs include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches that typically originate at the base of the skull
  • Neck pain that gets worse when you move or turn your neck
  • Pain or tenderness in the arm, shoulder, and/or upper back
  • Reduced range of motion in the neck
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms

The following whiplash symptoms are less common but do affect some car accident victims:

  • Blurred vision
  • Depression
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Memory issues
  • Sleep issues
  • Tinnitus (a ringing in the ears)

If you experience any of these symptoms after an auto accident, talk to your chiropractor as soon as possible.

How long whiplash symptoms last depends on your unique situation, whether you seek treatment, and how well you follow your chiropractor’s instructions. The sooner you begin treatment after your injury, the more quickly healing begins.

On average, whiplash symptoms resolve within four to six weeks of beginning chiropractic treatment. However, healing may take longer if any of the following apply to you:

  • Your symptoms appeared right away and were fairly intense
  • Your neck pain and/or limited range of motion were severe
  • The pain from your neck spread to your arms
  • You’ve had whiplash before
  • You’re over age 50
  • You have a history of low back or neck pain
  • Your injury occurred at a high rate of speed

An untreated whiplash injury may lead to chronic neck pain that lasts for years.

Whiplash treatment varies depending on your particular injury. Your chiropractor will guide you through exercises designed to return range of motion and alleviate pain or discomfort. These may include:

  • Rotating your neck from left to right
  • Tilting your head from side to side
  • Bending your neck forward, toward your chest
  • Rolling your shoulders

Your chiropractor may also recommend strength training exercises to better support your neck and improve range of motion. If your pain is severe, your provider may recommend transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS).

General guidelines for self-care include:

  • Apply cold packs or ice to the neck (never directly touching the skin) for 15 minutes every three hours to help reduce inflammation
  • Follow the application of cold packs with moist heat, again in 15-minute increments
  • Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen also helps reduce inflammation
  • Resting for one to two days after your accident can help speed healing, but longer than that may have the opposite effect

As with most internal injuries, whiplash usually gets worse when left untreated. You may experience chronic neck pain and stiffness, with severe cases possibly causing degenerative disc disease and vertebrae misalignment.

You may experience a whiplash injury when only driving 5 to 10 miles per hour, although symptoms will probably be minor. Injuries are more severe after a rear-end collision at a higher rate of speed.

Prompt treatment usually offers the fastest recovery time for a whiplash injury. Until you can get in to see your chiropractor, provide the self-care described above to minimize symptoms.

Most soft tissue injuries are not evident in x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs. However, there is an examination known as an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging). According to this study, the procedure involves “positioning the cervical spine in approximately 40 different positions…” This may reveal evidence of whiplash in severe cases of whiplash trauma. Although, even after an fMRI, serious cervical injuries remained undetected until the patients underwent surgery.

No, whiplash is not visible on an x-ray. This is true of most soft tissue injuries.

In a whiplash injury, your neck whips back and forth violently and suddenly. This causes the ligaments and tendons in your neck to stretch and even tear. Your body working to repair this damage is what causes the pain people typically experience with whiplash.

Yes, whiplash symptoms can definitely get worse over time. Of course, every person’s body and situation are unique. For example, a low-speed impact typically causes only mild symptoms that may resolve on their own in a few weeks. However, the same low-speed impact could cause a more severe whiplash injury, depending on where the patient was seated and their position at the time (buckled in, turned in their seat, facing forward, etc.).

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to prove whiplash medically, as the condition does not show up on x-rays, CT scans, or MRIs.

The whiplash “grades” mostly come down to the symptoms the patient presents. Grade 2 whiplash symptoms include neck pain, stiffness, and/or tenderness. But there may also be physical signs, such as the area feeling tender to the touch or reduced range of motion (i.e. difficulty turning the head).

In grade 3 whiplash, additional symptoms include neurological signs of the injury, such as a weakness in the arms or slower reflexes. Grade 4 whiplash symptoms may include a fracture or dislocation of the neck.

If you have any questions about whiplash treatment, please contact us as soon as possible to schedule a consultation.

Whiplash FAQ 

whiplash faq
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