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What is Whiplash?

Whiplash is an injury to a person's neck. Also referred to as a neck strain or neck sprain, it happens when a person's head rapidly moves backward and forward with force. The impact from this kind of momentum can cause the soft tissues of the neck to extend beyond its typical range of motion.


After a whiplash injury, you should pay close attention to any physical changes for several days as symptoms do not always appear right away. Although whiplash is considered a relatively mild condition, it can cause long term discomfort and pain.


How Do You Get Whiplash?

When people hear the word whiplash, they often think of car accidents. Certainly, car accidents resulting in front or rear impact is one of the most common causes. However, whiplash can be caused by other activities, including high impact sports like:

  • Skiing

  • American football

  • Cycling

  • Horseback riding

We would never suggest that you don't pursue the activities you love, just be careful. Whiplash occurs when we least expect it too. You could be carrying groceries in from the car and slip on black ice. Theme park rides that are jerky and fast have also been known to be the cause of a whiplash case.


Age can play a role in the seriousness of a whiplash injury. As people age, their range of movement can become more limited. This along with strength and flexibility changes can create the potential for more damage.


Arthritis or other neck problems can also impact the seriousness of whiplash.


What are the Symptoms of Whiplash?

Depending on the injury, a person's health and age, whiplash symptoms may develop within 24 hours or surface over the course of a few days.

Most common symptoms include:

  • Neck stiffness

  • Neck pain

  • Headaches that start at the base of the skull

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Blurred vision

Lesser known symptoms include:

  • Irritability

  • Chronic pain in shoulders, neck or head

  • Problems sleeping

  • Concentration and memory problems

  • Tinnitus

How Long Does Whiplash Last?

Prognosis for most people with whiplash is good. Healing normally takes within a few days to weeks. According to the NIH (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke), most patients recover within 3 months after the injury. In some cases, people may continue to experience residual neck pain and headaches.


When to Seek Professional Help?

You don't want to shrug off a whiplash injury. It can end up being minor or develop into a more debilitating situation. If you’ve been in a car accident or if your dog bolted after a cat jerking you hard in the opposite direction of where you were walking, have it checked out. The sooner you begin whiplash treatment, the better the outcome will be.


When you visit with the doctor or chiropractor be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • How did the whiplash happen?

  • What type of pain are you experiencing: dull, sharp or a shooting pain?

  • Where is the pain?

In determining the diagnosis, a physical exam to check for range of motion and tenderness is common. X-rays,CT scans or MRI scans may be a course of action to determine whiplash and understand the best course of treatment going forward.


Treating Whiplash

Some of the common treatment plans for whiplash include:

  • Pain management - Depending on the need either over the counter medications or in more severe cases prescription medications could be prescribed.

  • Rest - Studies show too much rest can cause the neck, back and shoulders to get stiff and weak. But in a case where the injury can be exacerbated, rest is advised. Always follow the directions of your physician.

  • Heat or cold therapy - Ice can help reduce swelling. After a few days of ice therapy, ice or heat can be applied alternately.

  • Muscle relaxants - Can be used to help reduce muscle spasms.

Whiplash Recovery

To fully heal from whiplash you need to carry on with your recovery efforts in one or more areas:

  • Chiropractic care - Chiropractic treatment is regarded as one of the most effective strategies for the treatment of whiplash. A chiropractor performs joint manipulation techniques which can offer pain relief when coupled with physical therapy.

  • Physical therapy - Seeing a PT is important if you need assistance with range of motion. A PT will help with manual therapy or other PT techniques.

  • Acupuncture - Acupuncture involves inserting ultrafine needles through specific areas of the body, offering relief.

At Couve Health, our specialists treat the body as a whole. We work with our patients to determine a tailored plan of recovery based on a thorough examination. We are here to get you back to feeling better sooner than later.


If you’re experiencing neck pain due to injury or an accident, our specialists may be able to help. Book your appointment with Couve Health online by clicking here.


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