Whiplash or Automobile Accident Injuries
Whiplash is a generic term applied to injuries of the
neck caused when the neck is suddenly and/or violently
jolted in one direction and then another, creating a
whip-like movement. Whiplash is most commonly seen in
people involved in motor vehicle accidents, but it can
also occur from falls, sports injuries, work injuries,
and other incidents.
What structures are injured in a whiplash?
Whiplash injuries most often result in sprain-strain of
the neck. The ligaments that help support, protect, and
restrict excessive movement of the vertebrae are torn,
which is called a sprain. The joints in the back of the
spine, called the facet joints, are covered by ligaments
called facet capsules, which seem to be particularly
susceptible to whiplash injury.
In addition, the muscles and tendons are
strained—stretched beyond their normal limits. The discs
between the vertebrae, which are essentially ligaments,
can be torn, potentially causing a disc herniation. The
nerve roots between the vertebrae may also be stretched
and become inflamed. Even though it is very rare,
vertebrae can be fractured and/or dislocated in a
What are the common signs and symptoms of whiplash?
The most common symptoms of whiplash are pain and
stiffness in the neck. These symptoms are generally
found in the areas that are “whiplashed.” For example,
during a whiplash, first the head is lifted up from the
upper-cervical spine. This creates a sprain/strain in
the region just below the skull, where symptoms usually
occur. Symptoms may also commonly be seen in the front
and back of the neck. Turning the head often makes the
pain and discomfort worse.
Headache, especially at the base of the skull, is also a
common symptom, seen in more than two thirds of
patients. These headaches may be one-sided (unilateral)
or experienced on both sides (bilateral). In addition,
the pain and stiffness may extend down into the
shoulders and arms, upper back, and even the upper
In addition to the musculoskeletal symptoms, some
patients also experience dizziness, difficulty
swallowing, nausea, and even blurred vision after a
whiplash injury. While these symptoms are disconcerting,
in most cases, they disappear within a relatively short
time. If they persist, it is very important to inform
your doctor that they are not resolving. Vertigo (the
sensation of the room spinning) and ringing in the ears
may also be seen. In addition, some patients may feel
pain in the jaw. Others will even complain of
irritability, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
These symptoms also resolve quickly in most cases. In
rare cases, symptoms can persist for weeks, months, or
Another important and interesting aspect of whiplash is
that the signs and symptoms often do not develop until 2
to 48 hours after the injury. This scenario is
relatively common but not completely understood. Some
speculate that it may be due to delayed muscle soreness,
a condition seen in other circumstances.
How is whiplash treated?
One of the most important aspects of whiplash management
is for the patient to stay active, unless there is some
serious injury that requires immobilization. Patients
should not be afraid to move and be active, within
reason. In addition, Dr. Conboy will often prescribe an
exercise or stretching program. It is particularly
important to follow this program as prescribed, so that
you can achieve the best long-term benefits.
Chiropractic manipulation and physical therapy
Ice and/or heat are often used to help control pain and
reduce the muscle spasm that results from whiplash
injuries. Other physical therapy modalities, such as
electrical stimulation and/or ultrasound, may provide
some short-term relief. They should not, however,
replace an active-care program of exercise and
stretching. Spinal manipulation and/or mobilization
provided by Dr. Conboy can also give relief in many
cases of neck pain.
Can whiplash be prevented?
Generally speaking, whiplash cannot be “prevented,” but
there are some things that you can do while in a motor
vehicle that may reduce the chances of a more severe
injury. Always wear restraints (lap or shoulder belt),
and ensure that the headrest in your vehicle is adjusted
to the appropriate height.
Source: The American Chiropractic