Whiplash is a very simple sounding description to a very complex injury. Most commonly associated with auto accidents, whiplash can occur in sports injuries, slips and falls or as the result of minor repetitive trauma. In medical lingo, a whiplash injury can be referred to by a number of terms:    

  • acceleration flexion-extension injury
  • soft tissue injury
  • cervical hyperflexion-extension injury
  • cervical sprain
  • cervical strain

The most common cause of whiplash injury is a car accident. When one vehicle strikes another, the car occupant's body travels with the car, but the head experiences a "lag" before it catches up. For instance, if a seatbelted driver is struck from behind, his body, from the shoulders down gets pushed forward with the car. The head remains in the same position for a few seconds longer, causing it to snap backwards at impact and then forward. Speeds as low as 15 mph can cause significant damage to the sensitive ligaments, muscles and joints of the neck. The end result of a whiplash injury is neck pain. Other symptoms are outlined below.


The obvious prevention for any accident is to reduce your speed and avoid distracted driving. Even if you are not the cause of the car accident, you may have better reaction time to minimize the injury and keep control of your vehicle.

Headrest position is important. The head rest should not be more than 1-2 inches from the back of the head. The closer the headrest is to your head, the less "lag" that occurs as described above. This results in less trauma to the neck and less neck pain.

Other risk factors that are not controllable are :

  • side impact auto accidents
  • having your head turned to one side at the time of impact
  • being female-the ratio of the weight of the head to the strength of the neck muscles is less favorable
  • pre-existing neck injuries or conditions such as degenerative joint disease (arthritis) or poor posture

Seatbelts do not prevent whiplash injury, because they do not protect the neck. Seat belts are recommended for safety because they keep you from hitting your head and face on the windshield or being ejected from the car. Seatbelts do save lives and help prevent head injuries and disfiguring facial injuries.


If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident or had a significant fall, a complete exam by your Doctor of Chiropractic doctor is critical. A complete neurologic and orthopedic examination is important assess the injury. X-rays may be necessary to evaluate ligament injury or damage and to rule out frature or dislocation. Occasionally, MRI is needed to evaluate for injury to the discs of the neck.

If you have suffered a whiplash injury from a car accident or other cause, the first thing to do is ice your neck. Use a soft gel pack designed for treating injuries and apply it to your neck for 20 minutes. You can and should repeat this frequently, allowing the skin of your neck to return to a normal temperature in between applications. Use ice with caution on children, people with diabetes or whose skin may not be able to feel normally (as in neurological conditions or nerve damage). Be careful not to cause frost bite.

Chiropractic treatment is extremely beneficial for neck pain and whiplash injuries. Treatment includes gentle manipulation to restore normal range of motion and reduce pain. It may also include electrical therapy, acupuncture, traction or massage for pain control. Kinesiotape is helpful to reduce muscle spasms and support the neck as the neck whiplash injury heals. Range of motion exercises,strengthening exercises and posture or ergonomic instruction complements treatment.