Whiplash: The Symptoms and How to Find Relief

Whiplash is an injury that occurs when your body is suddenly forced backwards and forwards moving your head and neck like a whip.

It’s the most common injury that happens during a car accident, and it’s one of the leading causes of chronic neck and back pain.

While a fender bender may not seem like a big deal, new research has shown that even small accidents can result in significant injuries.

Why it Matters: The violent forces that occur during a car accident can cause damage to your spinal discs, ligaments, tendons, and bones – even at “low” speeds. These forces have been shown to be up to 2000 times greater than in normal activities.

Most of these injuries happen because your head is whipped backwards and forward very quickly. This rapid motion often results in torn ligaments and injured discs.

Symptoms such as neck pain, back pain, headaches, confusion, and even depression may indicate that you’ve suffered a whiplash injury.

You may not immediately notice any pain because of an adrenaline spike at the time of the accident. For many people, these symptoms develop over hours or even a few days and go unnoticed until the initial shock of the car accident has worn off.

To recap…

  • Whiplash is an acceleration-deceleration injury that can affect your ligaments, spinal discs, muscles, and joints.
  • Symptoms of whiplash may include neck or back pain, headaches, radiating pain, confusion, and difficulty sleeping.
  • There is often a period of little to no pain before the symptoms of whiplash injuries worsen.



How Long Does Whiplash Last?

If you’ve been involved in a car accident, you may be wondering how long these symptoms are going to last.

There’s good news! With a proper evaluation and early treatment, there’s a high likelihood of getting well within a matter of weeks.

One of the most common injuries associated with whiplash is ligament tearing.

Ligaments are the short, tough bands of connective tissue that hold together the bones in your neck and joints of your body. If these ligaments are torn, it can cause neck pain.

The average time it takes a ligament to heal is about 6 weeks with the proper care and treatment.

  • The acute inflammatory phase of injury lasts up to 72 hours.
  • The repair phase takes up to 6 weeks.
  • The final (remodelling) phase of healing can last up to 1 year.

A non-healed ligament injury can result in osteoarthritis.

(We should also note, if you notice symptoms like headaches, dizziness, or impaired memory, you may have suffered a mild brain injury. A majority of people with these injuries recover within 3 months.)



Shoulder Pain After a Car Accident: What Does it Mean?

It may surprise you to learn that shoulder injuries, like whiplash injuries, are some of the most common challenges people face after a car accident.

If you’re driving and have your hands on the steering wheel at the time of an accident, the sudden forces created by the event can result in a torn rotator cuff.

Why it Matters: Your shoulder is one of the most dynamic and unstable joints in your body and one of the most complex parts. It’s made up of a collection of bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.

The rotator cuff in your shoulder is a ball and socket joint made up of three bones: your arm bone (the humerus), your shoulder blade (the scapula), and your collarbone (the clavicle).

The supporting muscles, ligaments, and tendons in your shoulder are designed to help you lift and rotate your arm.

It’s hard to ignore a torn rotator cuff because…it hurts! Signs of a tear include shoulder pain when lifting your arm, weakness, pain when lying down, or a limited range of motion.

Did you know…

  • Shoulder impingement has been estimated to occur in 10% of people involved in car accidents.
  • The risk of neck or shoulder pain 7 years after a collision was 3 times higher for people who suffered whiplash injuries.

Ignoring a shoulder injury after a car accident is not a good idea. Your shoulder is designed to move, and if you try to “let it heal” by not moving it, you’re putting yourself at risk for a frozen shoulder.

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis) results from adhesions that develop in the shoulder due to lack of movement. It can cause severe pain and takes months to heal.

Needless to say, if you experience shoulder pain after an accident, time is of the essence!

Our team is here and can provide a complete evaluation and treatment plan for you to get moving safely and heal quickly. Just give us a call or book online.


Finding Relief After a Car Accident Without Drugs or Surgery

Even if you don’t feel immediate pain following a car accident, you may be tempted to think you don’t have a problem. However, waiting too long to seek care has been shown to increase the chances that you’ll need more aggressive interventions later, so finding relief from pain soon after a car accident without drugs is important.

Screech. Bam. Uh-oh… you’ve been involved in a car accident. Your day has been thrown upside down, and a million thoughts are racing through your head.

With the stress of an accident, calling the insurance company, getting a car repaired, etc. – it’s not uncommon for people to make the mistake of putting their health and well-being last on the to-do list.

Taking the right action steps as quickly as possible after a car accident can make a huge difference in your overall health and healing.

Without a proper diagnosis and treatment, your body may begin to “heal” with more scar tissue than necessary. What’s more, trying to live “around” your injuries can cause additional stress on other parts of your body, which can lead to additional injuries.

Research has shown that active care involving range of motion, mobility, and strengthening exercises can effectively reduce pain.

To give yourself the best chance to find relief without the need for drugs or surgery, we recommend 3 simple steps…

  1. Get an evaluation – a complete evaluation can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.
  2. Begin receiving care – after reducing inflammation, movement-based techniques are often recommended to help you regain your quality of life.
  3. Stay consistent – getting well is a process and staying consistent with your care will help you to heal as quickly as possible.


Next Steps for Whiplash Relief

It’s smart to get a complete evaluation after a car accident to minimise your risk of long-term pain. Getting the right care at the right time can make a big difference in your ability to heal quickly.

Remember, even small accidents can cause injuries, so if you’ve been involved in a car accident, be sure to contact our office as soon as possible so we can help you get on the road to relief!


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Science Source(s):

Biomechanics of Whiplash Injury. Chinese Journal of Traumatology. 2009.
Ligament Injury and Healing: A Review of Current Clinical Diagnostics and Therapeutics. ORJ. 2013.
The Association Between Exposure to a Rear-end Collision and Future Neck or Shoulder Pain: a Cohort Study. JCE. 2000.
Subacromial Impingement in Patients with Whiplash Injury to the Cervical Spine. JOSR. 2008.
The Effectiveness of Conservative Management for Acute Whiplash Associated Disorder (WAD) II. PLOS One. 2015.


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