A fact sheet on whiplash – and how chiropractic care can help.

Depositphotos_36839635_s-2015What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a condition that occurs when the head is snapped forward and then jolted backwards suddenly in a whip-like motion, over-stretching and straining the soft tissue, bones, nerves, tendons, joints, and muscles in the neck and upper back. It is also called neck strain or sprain. 

How common is whiplash?

Every year, more than two million Americans suffer from whiplash or feel its effects. It’s such a common condition – particularly from people who have been in automobile accidents – that whiplash injuries account for at least 65% of all bodily injury claims, adding up to $8.8 billion every year. To put that dollar figure in perspective, that’s the total GDP of the country of Malta!

Whiplash and auto accidents.

People who are involved in car crashes are particularly susceptible to whiplash, as the vast majority of accidents involve a slow-moving or stationary car getting hit from behind (rear ended) or on the side, and instances of sudden deceleration.

But there are other causes of whiplash.

Neck strains, sprains, and whiplash can also occur from other injuries and accidents. It’s a common injury in sports, especially high-impact and full-contact athletic activities where the neck and head are jolted violently, like football and boxing, or from falls and injuries in gymnastics, snow sports, diving, etc.

Slip and falls and injuries in the workplace also account for a significant percentage of whiplash cases.

How long until you’ll feel symptoms of whiplash?

People who suffer an injury or are involved in auto accidents usually feel some discomfort, pain or stiffness in their necks almost immediately, but it make take hours or longer for more acute symptoms of whiplash to set in. In some cases, it can even take weeks or months before the true damage from whiplash is felt and realized!

In fact, a delay in the onset of whiplash symptoms has proven to be the rule, not the exception. Research shows that 45% of whiplash sufferers still experienced symptoms at 12 weeks and 25% remained symptomatic at 6 months.

What are the common symptoms of whiplash?

The most common symptoms of whiplash include:



Difficulty turning or bending the neck

Pain or stiffness in the neck and shoulders

Pins and needles and/or numbness in the arms and hands

Blurred vision

Ringing in ears



Fatigue or weakness

Irritability and mood changes

Difficulty swallowing

How acute are the symptoms of whiplash?

Damage to your soft tissue, muscles, joints, ligaments, or even spine in the neck and upper back are no small matter. In fact, up to 10% of victims of whiplash become totally disabled. Whiplash can also coincide with mild traumatic brain injuries, called Post Traumatic Concussion Syndrome.

The facts about whiplash and auto accidents.

You may think a car needs to be going very fast or hit hard for its occupants to suffer whiplash, but in fact most rear-end accidents happen at speeds of only 6-12 mph and medical research shows that the soft tissues in your cervical spine have an injury threshold of only 5 mph.

The severity of whiplash suffered in car accidents depends on several factors, like the force and angle of impact, how you are sitting, your headrest, and if you are wearing a seatbelt.

If you recognize that you are about to be in a car accident or rear ended, lean your head back into your headrest and look straight ahead. This will give you the best chance of absorbing the trauma without serious injury.

Research also shows that 35% of all neck sprains that last more than six weeks could be prevented or reduced if people had better quality head restraints in their automobiles and adjusted them properly.

How long does whiplash take to heal?

Often times, the pain and symptoms of whiplash will fade on their own in a couple weeks or a month. Although that’s the case approximately 60% of the time, about 25% of whiplash sufferers still have pain or symptoms after six months, and in some cases it can take much longer to heal.

A summary of whiplash in motor vehicle collision studies concluded that “over 60% of them” needed long-term medical follow-up.” The same studies stated that the most minor cases needed at least 8 weeks to recover, while the more severe cases took 17 weeks to fully heal.

Tips to heal and recover from whiplash.

If you have suffered an injury or trauma consistent with the cause of whiplash, or been in a car accident, you shouldn’t wait to get treatment – go see a chiropractor or doctor immediately.

Ice the neck and upper back for 15 minutes 2 times a day.

Be very gentle with your range of motion (turning the neck and head, etc.)

Take anti-inflammatory medication as need and prescribed.

Maintain a good posture.

Use a firm supporting pillow for sleeping.

Use and movement of your neck within a couple days of the injury to prevent muscle stiffness and atrophy and prevent long term pain.

Chiropractic for whiplash.

Your chiropractor will probably also put you through some simple tests and recommend a treatment plan that includes:


Soft tissue massage.

Recommended exercise programs.


Mobilization of the neck.

You should make an appointment with a chiropractor immediately if you are feeling the effect of whiplash or any of these symptoms. Chiropractic care removes subluxations and other blockages to the spine and nervous system performing optimally, which allows your body to naturally heal without often-dangerous prescription painkillers that only mask the pain, not treat the root cause.

Contact us if you have any questions about whiplash or if you’ve been in an auto accident or suffered a similar injury recently.