Whiplash Injury: Things You Need to Know

Whiplash Injury

We all run into patients from time to time where we aren’t always sure of what the symptoms are evidence of. It’s also common to misdiagnose patients or misdiagnose those who come in to receive chiropractic care or physical therapy.

The goal is to always strive for the patients and clients to leave satisfied and with a greater understanding of whatever issue they’re experiencing.

Let’s consider thinking of a scenario and real-life examination where you encounter a patient complaining of head and neck pain. They go on to explain how the pain was subtle and each day that passed there seemed to be different forms of pain. Not only did the pain remain in the head and neck but they tell you that the pain began to radiate throughout the shoulders and even into the arms. They describe the arm discomfort as less of a painful feeling and more so a subtle numbness. They also go on to add that at certain hours of the day it’s very hard to turn the neck, specifically in the morning where stiffness seems inevitable.

Before you make any decisions or diagnoses to then further determine what treatment would be most beneficial, it’s best to consider the options and have them explain and express anything that may have happened within the range of a month. Anything that would have brought trauma to the body.

It’s common for the body to experience delayed reactions or responses to traumatic events and not have pain the day of, sometimes even within the same week. Hence the reason many are told to go to the hospital after an accident regardless of whether they’re experiencing pain or not. It doesn’t always show up as soon as something happens.

Therefore, when they go on to tell you they recently rode a horse and got into an accident where they very forcefully got thrown off the horse; you then begin to understand that they may be experiencing the response of the body concerning whiplash.

Symptoms of Whiplash

Headaches, neck pain, shoulder, and arm pain are easy symptoms to diagnose especially considering the accident that the patient was a part of, leading up to the injury. The delayed responses also lead to whiplash as the culprit.

Whiplash symptoms are known to show up at least 24 hours later and not immediately following whatever the accident. It’s also known that whiplash can occur not only from car accidents but from any type of traumatic blow or incident that targets the head and neck in some way. Any form of trauma that causes there to be a sudden forceful movement involving the neck can cause whiplash.

  • Horse accidents
  • Physical abuse
  • Car accidents
  • Sports accidents

Whether the neck goes front to back or back to front, it can even go from side to side and still be considered the cause of whiplash.

Though whiplash is a condition that can generally be self-diagnosed and self-treated, there are still many clients who will come in to receive treatments in the recovery process. Chiropractic care is very beneficial in terms of treating and managing pain and stiffness related to whiplash.

Other Key Symptoms May Include:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling or numbness in arms
  • Little to no range of motion within the neck
  • Memory loss
  • Hard time concentrating
  • Blurred vision
  • Trouble sleeping

Target Areas Affected

  • Neck: The neck is the commonplace of injury when the body is undergoing the aftermath of whiplash. Because it’s hard to turn the neck after such trauma has occurred, it causes muscle stiffness to take place. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments beneath the surface of the skin in the neck area and beyond are damaged, and until they heal there will be a struggle to easily move the neck. Not only are muscles, tendons and ligaments affected but bones in the spine along with the discs within the back, nerves, and tissues can and are many times also negatively affected.
  • Shoulders: Because the neck is tense and full of stiffness when the body is undergoing whiplash, it’s common for the shoulders to become stiff and experience pain due to that sudden tension. The neck and upper back experience many of the same pains and tensions when an injury is present. The spinal cord connects to the head beneath the surface of those actual parts of the body, therefore whiplash not only affects the neck heavily but also the shoulders. In simple terms, it’s all connected.


  • Physical Therapy
  • Massage Therapy
  • Neck Brace (helps with adding support to the neck when it’s weak from injury, not meant to be worn long-term)
  • Painkillers
  • Stretching and Exercise (can and should be done daily)
  • Ice packs (generally used immediately following an accident to keep down the swelling as well as pain)
  • Heat compress

While everyone doesn’t choose chiropractic care to assist with the recovery process, many do and will. There’s also a group who aren’t even aware that we as chiropractors can treat that level and area of pain.


The recovery time for whiplash may vary with each case. Recovery can take a few weeks to months at a time for whiplash symptoms to completely cease. It’s important to encourage patients to do whatever they can and know to do to help keep things from worsening. Stressing that they educate themselves in sleep positions and the importance of a proper mattress and even pillows while neck pain and tension are present will also be helpful.

It’s beneficial that each patient understands the importance of positioning the neck properly before bed, or that can cause more stiffness to occur in the morning. Throughout the night is usually when patients bring more tension to the neck and shoulders, due to a lack of understanding of how important sleep positions are.

With the stiffness, many patients assume that it’s easier and/or best not to move the neck around while recovering. However, that is false and one key to a successful and speedy recovery is consistently moving the neck around and maintaining daily stretching and exercise. Chiropractors can make your pain much better.

About Dr. Brent Wells

Dr. Brent Wells has been a chiropractor for over 20 years and has treated thousands of patients. He founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and is a member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.

Published on 1/30/2020