Understanding Whiplash

Whiplash is a term that most people are familiar with and think of when they see an auto injury lawyer commercial. The general understanding is that it is an injury to the neck that requires the use of a neck brace to treat. Whiplash is a fairly common injury, however, it is one that goes untreated or mistreated due to a lack of understanding about the condition.

If the pain and limitations don’t seem to warrant a neck brace, it is assumed that it is just a strain that will go away. At Injury Care Centers Inc., we see far too many patients who delayed whiplash treatment and are suffering from undue pain and stress as a result. Join us in today’s post as we offer some information to clarify what whiplash is and why it is so important to be proactive in treating the condition.

What is Whiplash?

WhiplashWhiplash is an injury that is caused by sudden acceleration and deceleration that causes the head and neck to quickly and forcefully hyperextend — exaggerated backward position — and then hyperflex — exaggerated forward position. This forceful hyperextension and hyperflexion cause the cervical spine to take on an S-shape. Depending on how quickly or forcefully the neck was affected, the movement causes damage to the soft tissues that surround and support the cervical vertebrae.

Any motion or movement that causes rapid hyperextension and hyperflexion of the neck can cause whiplash, which is why it is a very common injury that occurs in car accidents. However, whiplash can happen on amusement park rides, during contact sports, and from physical abuse or assaults.

Fortunately, whiplash is a treatable condition that does not often result in long-term issues — unless it is not properly treated right away. One of the most common causes of delayed treatment of whiplash is the delayed onset of symptoms. At the time of initial damage, there may or may not be pain, but other symptoms generally develop over the next 24 hours.

Other symptoms that may manifest include neck pain or stiffness, decreased range of motion in the neck, headaches, tenderness or pain in the shoulder, upper back, or arms, fatigue, or dizziness. As you can imagine, some of these symptoms are easy to dismiss as stress, tension, or expected neck pain resulting from a car accident. If the cervical neck is misaligned, not only can these symptoms worsen, but permanent damage can develop. It is critical to be evaluated following a car accident, whether pain is present or not.

How whiplash is treated:

For decades, the treatment of choice for whiplash or suspected whiplash was prolonged immobilization with the use of a cervical collar (c-collar). C-collars help to immobilize the neck, but they are more of a reminder to the patient to limit movement in any direction of the neck — turning, bending, or twisting. In recent years, however, prolonged immobilization actually slows healing. The treatment of choice is spinal alignment and early range of motion. It should be noted that it is not advised to begin range of motion without first ensuring that the spine is properly aligned, so the use of a c-collar is useful prior to x-ray and chiropractic adjustment.


At Injury Care Centers Inc., we specialize in car accident injury treatment. If you have been in a car accident, whether you were at fault or not, or whether you hit another vehicle (or object) or you were hit, we can help you file the auto insurance claims and get you the prompt treatment you need.

At our chiropractic centers in Lanham and Riverdale, we can take x-rays to assess the alignment of your spine and then using chiropractic treatment along with physical therapy and massage therapy, we can help decrease your pain and increase your range of motion, restoring your movement. If you have been injured in a car accident, schedule an evaluation with our chiropractor — Dr. Natalie cares!