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Important Information About Whiplash Injuries

Whiplash is a common neck injury that I treat in my chiropractic practice.  It is caused by a sudden movement that jerks the head back and forth in a forceful manner. Generally, automobile accidents are the frequent cause of whiplash but it can also occur from sports related injuries, falls, work injuries and other incidents.  The pain associated with whiplash can be significant and cause significant life disruptions.  In fact, that split second whiplash can causea lifetime of suffering.  In the unfortunate circumstance you or a loved one are involved in an accident that has caused whiplash here are some quick tips on how you can minimize pain and avoid problems down the line.

Some of the most common symptoms we care for from whiplash injuries are pain and stiffness in the neck and lower back.  This occurs becauseof the sprain/strain forces that are placed upon the cervical (neck) structuresof the spine.  In addition, muscles and tendons are usually injured as a result of the whiplash motion.  All of these structures are typically injured because the force of the accident places them in a situation where they are stretched beyond their normal limits in an abrupt fashion. The discs and nerves in the neck are also affected after traumatic acceleration/deceleration motions. Though rare, the vertebrae can be fractured and or dislocated following a whiplash injury. Other injuries that can also occur are sciatica, shoulder pain, chest (sternum) bruising, upper and lower back pain.

Headaches are one of the most common areas of complaint among post-accident sufferers. They are associated with approximately two-thirds of patients.  They are usually located at the base of the skull and can be unilateral or bilateral depending on the individual’s specific injury.

In addition to the musculoskeletal pain, some patients experience dizziness, difficulty swallowing, nausea, arm numbness and blurred vision.  While these symptoms are usually short lived and resolve within a short period of time it is important to inform your doctor if they don’t resolve.  The presence of vertigo, ringing in the ears and pain in the jaw can also be present.  Fortunately, these symptoms also usually go away within a short period of time.

One of the lesser known and interesting presentations of whiplash is that the signs and symptoms often develop much later than most would think.  It is not uncommon for patients to relate that they did not “start” developing pain following their accident until 2 to 72 hours after the injury.  This usually occurs because of a couple of different reasons.  The first is that the increase in adrenaline that your body produces following a car crash increases your pain threshold.  This is your body’s natural innate response after such injuries. Secondly, it takes time for the inflammation in the body to develop.  This increase in inflammation makes the symptoms that were absent previously come to light.

After all serious conditions have been ruled out, it is important for the patient to stay active. Patients are sometimes confused and think they should stay bedridden or be afraid to move after an accident. These are probably the most common errors that I see patients make when conveying their history. It is important that the normal ranges of motion be reestablished in a short period of time.

It is crucial to try to minimize the increase in inflammation that typically presents after an injury.  This is best done with ice packs applied to the affected areas for 20-30 minutes sessions multiple times per day.

The effects of early treatment and returned normal ranges are crucial for the long-term health of the patient.  In a study that compared patients who were treated within four days after their auto injury versus those who waited two weeks, researchers found that those who received quick treatment far exceeded their peer group.  After three years the group that received prompt care using restorative measures to regain joint mobility and range of motion were much improved compared to the group who had received care later.

Returning to normal activities is an important step onthe road to recovery for several reasons. The first is that staying mobile mentally helps your fear of motion and your chance of re-injury.  Secondly, after the inflammation is minimized an increase in blood flow from movement actually helps heal the surrounding soft tissue. Also, the movement in the joints can decrease the amount of scar tissue down the road.  This is why you rarely see the cumbersome big neck braces that were a common sight before the 1980s.  Studies, patients, and doctors have confirmed that they actually slow healing and can lead to permanent pain and decreased life-time spinal function.

Chiropractic care is a crucial step in restoring normal joint mobility and decreasing recovery time. Returning the structures of the spine to their proper positions is important to returning the patients’ lives back to normal.  Whiplash does a number on the body’s natural alignment and it is important that a chiropractor help restore normal joint functioning and position of the spine.

The good news is that whiplash injuries rarely require surgery.  Also an important reminder is that the prompt consultation and treatment from a chiropractor after a car accident is one of the best ways to avoid a life-long nagging pain.  The sooner you can address your health afteran accident the better.  Don’t make the common mistake we hear in the office with initial consultations “I thought the pain would go away”.  Schedule today to evaulate your case.

Here is a list of articles that you may enjoy:


  • Guide to Whiplash Injury | The Zen Corner – No one asks for a whiplash injury-they are nearly always a surprise and rarely the fault of the victim. But they are very common. In fact, over 1 million rear-end collisions occur every year in the U.S. Most cases of whiplash are …
  • Whiplash – Pairmore & Young Synergy Chiropractic – Whiplash. Whiplash Injury and Post Traumatic Neck Pain: crash In the past 32 years of caring for patients, I have taken care of thousands and thousands of patients who were injured in motor vehicle accidents. Many of these patients had been …
  • Whiplash and Dizziness in Anchorage Alaska – Whiplash and Dizziness in Anchorage Alaska. Whiplash and Dizziness How Does Whiplash Effect the Ears? Two million people are exposed to whiplash injury (related to an auto accident) in the U.S. every year. When the head is suddenly …

Dr. Jason Crist

Crist Chiropractic & Wellness exists to help as many people as possible achieve optimal health through natural and holistic means. Our team is committed to restoring the body’s ability to express its true health potential. We strive to serve our patients and our community with a spirit of complete caring, by radiating health and promoting well-being.