What is Whiplash?


Whiplash is one of the most common injuries from car accidents and other traumatic events. If you've recently been in some sort of accident and you're feeling neck pain, you might be suffering from a whiplash injury. If you have questions about what to do next, you've come to the right place.

Before we jump in, remember that a chiropractor can help diagnose and treat whiplash and a wide variety of other injuries. If you're in the Denver area and need help, contact us here.

Now, let's answer all your questions about whiplash.

  • What is whiplash?
  • What causes whiplash?
  • What are whiplash symptoms?
  • What muscles are injured in whiplash?
  • Is whiplash dangerous?
  • How long does whiplash last?
  • Can whiplash have long-term effects?
  • How can a chiropractor treat whiplash?

What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a neck injury that's caused when the head suddenly and forcefully moves back and forth. As the name implies, the movement is a lot like the cracking of a whip, and it can have serious consequences.

What causes whiplash?

Whiplash is a very well-known car accident injury, particularly rear-end collisions. However, auto accidents aren't the only cause of whiplash. Other causes of whiplash include:

  • Contact sports such as football
  • Bicycle accidents
  • Horseback riding accidents
  • Any blow to the head such as a punch or being hit with an object
  • Falls in which the head is whipped back and forth

What are whiplash symptoms?

They symptoms you feel will depend on the severity of the accident you were involved in. Here's what whiplash feels like:

  • Neck pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Decreased range of motion in the neck
  • Stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Pain in the arm or hand
  • Memory problems
  • Headache

What muscles are injured in whiplash?

Neck muscles and shoulder muscles are commonly injured in a whiplash injury. The scalenes and splenius cervicis are two neck muscles prone to injury.[i] However if you have neck muscles that have been under duress from poor posture or forward head carriage, whiplash will certainly exacerbate the strain on those muscles.Without getting into the weeds too much, the neck muscles are a complex system and injury to them depends on how an accident happens.

In addition to muscles, ligaments and other soft tissue are often damaged as a result of whiplash, and serious accidents can result in injury to the spine itself. Many of the soft tissue injuries can't be seen on an x-ray, which is why it's important to get medical help from a trained professional.

Is whiplash dangerous?

Yes. Some cases of whiplash could lead to complications and long-term pain and/or loss of motion. It's important to realize that even a low-speed car accident, even less than 10 mph, exerts considerable force on the neck. In fact, recent studies have shown that collisions as low as 6 mph can cause damage to ligaments in the neck. If a collision is forceful enough, the whiplash movement might result in bulging or ruptured discs in both the neck and low back. These are more dangerous for the elderly and people who may already be suffering from neck problems. So is whiplash serious? Absolutely.

How long does whiplash last?

In most cases, neck pain from whiplash goes away within a few days. However, some of our patients have experienced pain related to whiplash for over a year.Many times the complicating symptoms that arise from the instability caused by a whiplash accident do not begin to show their symptoms for up to years later.

Too many times we have patients who come into our office complaining of symptoms that are a result of lack of treatment following an accident.We always hear the same story… "It didn't seem that bad at the time, but now I am having all of these problems."It is very important to have your spine checked following even the smallest automobile accidents, this is why you pay for auto insurance!

Can whiplash have long-term effects?

Typically, pain related to whiplash could last for around a year. However, a collision that causes whiplash could cause injuries that do have longer-term consequences. Bulging discs and spinal cord injuries are possible in car accidents, and these can cause pain and loss of mobility in the long-term.

Whiplash almost always causes damage to the smaller ligaments in your neck.These ligaments are responsible for maintain the structural integrity of the cervical spinal structures.Loss of structural integrity in the neck can lead to early onset of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative arthritis.Anyone who is under 40 and has significant degeneration in their neck ALWAYS has a previous auto accident, or other similar injury, in their history.

How can a chiropractor treat whiplash?

When it comes to whiplash, chiropractors will treat you based on what they find in their exam. Not every car accident is the same, and different forces are exerted on your neck. A chiropractor treats whiplash in several ways:

  • Chiropractic adjustment: A misalignment of the spine is what often what causes pain after an auto accident. Through an adjustment, a chiropractor will realign your spine so that your body can naturally heal.
  • Therapeutic massage: Therapeutic massage will help calm down any spasmatic muscles and also allow new blood flow to get into the muscles, ultimately speeding up the body's natural healing processes.Assisted stretching may also be used in conjunction with therapeutic massage.
  • Specific and pointed exercises: If instability is found in the spine, it is important to compensate for the instability by performing targeted exercises.Regaining stability is crucial to prevent a host of problems that could arise in the future.
  • Ergonomic and lifestyle consulting: Your chiropractor may give you advice on how to place the minimal possible stress on your body throughout the day. This will allow your body to heal faster, getting rid of the pain from whiplash more quickly.

Book an appointment with your chiropractor today

If you're looking for a chiropractor, Denver's Tech Center depends on Dr. Leach with Discover Health & Wellness. Dr. Leach has treated many patients who have been involved in car accidents, and they have gotten long-term pain relief. Contact us to schedule an appointment right away.

[i] Whiplash Injury - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

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