Overcoming Whiplash — Symptoms and Treatment

Brianna Clark
August 31, 2016

Whiplash Injury Treatment

Whiplash injury is a fairly common injury that occurs when there is any impact to the head or body that forces the head to rapidly move in any direction. The neck injury is caused when the head is quickly forced either backward or forward, or to the sides in a whipping manner.

The area of injury to the neck will depend on what angle the impact came from and at what speed. The abrupt force of impact will cause the head to be stretched beyond its normal range of motion, straining the muscles and ligaments of the neck. Extreme cases of whiplash may cause fractures to the neck vertebrae of the spine.

The most common injury resulting from motor vehicle accidents are whiplash injuries (80% of car crash injuries). A whiplash injury can occur in a car accident at speeds as little as 5 mph. Other ways the neck can be forced to sustain a whiplash injury are falls while participating in sports, falling from a bike and turning or stopping rapidly on amusement park rides to name a few.

Symptoms of Whiplash Injury

Symptoms of whiplash will depend on the severity of the injury and can be felt immediately or days to weeks after the initial injury. If the head was impacted, an evaluation for concussion should be considered.

Symptoms of Whiplash May Include:

Pain in the neck, head and shoulders
Loss of range of motion
Tingling and nerve pain in the arms and hands
Blurred vision
Issues with memory
Tinnitus or ringing in the ears

Symptoms of a Concussion May Include:

Blurred vision
Memory Loss
Sleep Disturbances
Fatigue and Drowsiness

Since many symptoms of a concussion overlap with those of whiplash, it is wise to be evaluated by a medical professional as soon as possible. Proper treatment for concussions will vary on type and will be important for a successful recovery.

massage for whiplash

Whiplash Injury Treatment Considerations

Whiplash happens when there is what we call a hyper-flexion and hyper-extension of the head and neck from the body. There is a lot of anatomy happening in your neck. There are a lot of muscles as well as nerves, arteries, tendons, ligaments, and of course the vertebrae, spinal discs and spinal cord. Let’s break down some common pathologies of the neck that can be a result of whiplash.

Seeking an x-ray or MRI can eliminate any damage to the spine and intervertebral discs as well as a concussion. It is always a good idea to be evaluated by a doctor to rule out serious complications. If the whiplash injury appears to be minor, involving mainly soft tissue, you will be sent home with a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory and told to rest. While this can be helpful, it is likely pain will reoccur down the line and there is so much you can do to help yourself avoid chronic issues associated with whiplash.

When the head is jerked back and forth abruptly, the muscles will be left with micro-tears. Without treatment, the body will lay down a matrix of scar tissue over the muscle strain that can cause pain and limit motion. Massage therapy will force the scar tissue to become a functional scar, meaning the tissue will be laid down parallel to the muscle fibers and not cause any future issues.

Another complication to soft tissue that may not at first be noticeable is the development of trigger points in the muscle tissue. These hypersensitive “knots” can create pain when pressure is applied and they are even so kind as to refer pain to other parts of the body.

The excessive tensile stress to the neck causes injury to the tendons and ligaments due to the structures stretching past their normal limits. This results in tendonitis and ligament sprains. Massage therapy can help with the regeneration of the collagen tissues and the prevention of the tendons adhering to surrounding tissue.

Next is the possibility of nerve compression injuries. This happens when adjacent tissue from bone, muscle or ligament compress the nerve causing symptoms to travel into the shoulders and arms. It can cause tingling, numbness and pain. If the pressure lasts over a long period of time, permanent damage to the nerve is possible. Immediate treatment is essential of you are having nerve symptoms.

neck pain whiplash

The Danger of Leaving Whiplash Injury Untreated

Untreated whiplash injuries can also cause osteoarthritis down the road as the facet joints of the cervical spine may degenerate over time and become inflamed. If the force was great enough, a disc injury is also possible and should be immediately ruled out.

Bulged discs can be very painful and pose some major problems. Treatments such as traction and strengthening exercises have been shown to aid in healing mildly herniated discs.

People often underestimate the complications whiplash injury causes. I would encourage anyone who has been in an auto accident or has otherwise been thrashed around to seek of the neck muscles among other treatments like chiropractic care can save you!

Ongoing treatments should include strengthening the deep neck flexor muscles, tissue adhesion break up and massage therapy. Here at The Anatomy of Wellness, we offer clinical massage therapy and corrective exercise prescription to help you heal properly while reducing pain. We have topical analgesics that relieve pain and help to break the pain-spasm cycle and help the healing process.

If you were involved in an auto accident resulting in injury, please see this article on PIP in Utah. Regardless of who was at fault, you can have your treatments reimbursed by insurance.

Preventing Whiplash Injury

If the causative force of a whiplash injury is tremendous, it may be impossible to altogether prevent any degree of injury. However, is it possible to reduce the severity or prevent less severe whiplash injuries. Here are several measures you can take to ensure that if injured, you will have the best outcomes.

1. Wear a seatbelt at all times! Make sure the airbags in your car are operational.

2. Keep your neck muscles strong. When was the last time you focused on strengthening the muscles on the front side of your neck? Probably never. Keeping muscles strong that support the spine is never a bad idea.

3. If you work at a job that requires long hours of sitting, stretch often to avoid creating stiff muscles that are susceptible to injury.

4. Stay hydrated and make sure your diet is full of minerals to keep the soft tissues of the body healthy.

5. Make sure to wear a helmet when participating in sports activities.


If you suspect you have a whiplash injury, our massage therapists can provide you with a free phone consultation or you can schedule online.

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