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What is whiplash?

Whiplash is a poorly understood spinal injury, because the severity of the symptoms is often not strongly related to the level of trauma. Whiplash is caused by an abrupt forward or backward movement of the neck and head. The Quebec Task Force specifically defines whiplash as an “acceleration-delaying mechanism of energy transfer to the neck (…) which can lead to damage to the bone or soft tissue. Cervical Acceleration-Delay Injuries (CAD) is currently used to describe this specific mechanism and Whiplash Associated Disorders (WAD) is used to describe the many types of injuries.

Whiplash and chiropractic care

Whiplash, a type of cervical (neck) injury, is one of the most common injuries that neuromuscular specialists, including chiropractors, encounter in a clinical setting. The number of new cases of whiplash related visits to hospitals etc. has increased dramatically since the statistics on this subject started. In the United States alone, a study by Michael Freeman, PhD and his colleagues estimated that about 15.5 million people (6.2% of the American population) currently suffer from symptoms related to whiplash. The existence of whiplash injuries has an impact on society, such as lost productivity, loss of personal well-being and higher costs for things like car insurance. The next step is to discuss causes, symptoms and treatments for those who suffer from whiplash pain and other related symptoms.

Whiplash symptoms

Whiplash lesions can manifest from barely noticeable to very severe and it can take more than a day after the initial trauma for noticeable symptoms to appear. Primary symptoms are neck pain and pain in the shoulders, but this pain can extend to the extremities (wrists, ankles and knees). Some of the most common symptoms are:

  • Neck pain and stiffness which can be mild or severe, local or widespread in the affected area
  • Headache
  • Instability of the neck
  • Pain between the shoulders or shoulder blades
  • Senselessness or pain in arms or hands
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep disorders, fatigue or irritability
  • Difficulty remembering things, difficulty concentrating

How bad is it?

The Quebec Task Force created a systematic scale to distinguish the injuries:

0: No neck pain, no physical signs
1: Neck pain, just stiffness or sensitivity, no other physical symptoms
2: Neck and musculoskeletal complaints, including reduced range of motion and sensitivity in specific areas
3: Neck complaints and neurological symptoms, including weakness and changes in sensors and reflexes
4: Neck complaints associated with fracture and/or dislocation

Chiropractic whiplash treatment

When you visit the chiropractor for a whiplash, your doctor will first examine your whole spine, because other areas (not just the neck!) can also be affected. Your chiropractor will assess your range of motion, joints, muscle spasms, density, sensitivity, joint injury or injury to your intervertebral discs. The chiropractor will then further examine your posture, gait and spine, as all these factors will help him make a full diagnosis. After an initial analysis the chiropractor can use one of the following techniques to treat your whiplash, depending on how serious it is:

The bending-diversion technique is a gentle, manual procedure that exerts a pumping action on the intervertebral discs and thus reduces pressure on the affected areas.

Instrument assisted manipulation is performed using a manual instrument, allowing the chiropractor to apply force without compressing the spine.

Specific spinal manipulation uses a soft impact technique that will restore movement.

Instrument supported soft tissue therapy uses specialized instruments to diagnose and treat muscle tension.

Manual joint stretching and resistance techniques are simple stretching techniques that can reduce pain and restore mobility.

Therapeutic massage can relax the muscles and relieve neck pain.

Trigger Point therapy focuses on specific points in a painful muscle.

Inference Electric Stimulation (IES) uses a low frequency electric current to stimulate muscles and relieve neck pain.

Ultrasound uses sound waves sent into the muscle to relieve stiffness and neck pain.

Therapeutic movement is a rehabilitative and preventive technique to improve general movement and prevent further neck pain.


A whiplash treatment by a chiropractor is an efficient way to treat the unwanted symptoms of a whiplash. Sometimes the effects of a minor trauma can get worse as time goes on. This is why finding a chiropractor to deal with the cause is not only a very good solution to relieve your immediate symptoms, it will also prevent suffering in the future.